31 October 2018

First Man review

We hear the metal of the ship groaning in protest of the immense forces being placed upon it. We see various dials and displays that are shaking so violently they're impossible to read. Over a headset, a voice gives barely audible instructions that the crafts pilot can do literally nothing about thanks to the intense G-forces that are pinning him to the back of his chair. This flight isn't graceful, or easy: it's a tiny, claustrophobic tin can that is propelling itself through sky not with finesse or grace but through nothing more than a vaguely controlled explosion that has been pointed in roughly the right direction, and the grimace of the astronauts face as he endures the shaking and hopes against hope that everything will turn out OK only worsens as the screaming of the metal gets all the louder and the shaking all the more vicious. And then, as the nose of the craft begins to glow red hot, just as you think this almost comically primitive shuttle hurtling through the air at incredible speeds can't possibly take much more: silence. Stillness. Peaceful serenity as it exits the atmosphere. Floating gently, the shuttle offers its inhabitant a beautiful glimpse of Earth from afar. It's a view that very few people are lucky enough to have seen to this day. The journey was a success - he survives, at least for now.

It's in these moments that First Man is at its very best, managing to imbue the NASA missions that Neil Armstrong and others undertook with an incredible amount of tension despite the fact that we already know what the outcomes are, fully managing to make us understand both how dangerous the early space missions were and how terrifying they must've been for those brave enough to undertake them. Sequences like this punctuate First Man's nearly two and half hour long running time throughout, each one more tense and gripping than the last.

9 October 2018

Hold The Dark review

Any long time readers of ScreenNerds - or even people who I've spoken to about films at any length over the last few years - are probably well aware of the high esteem that I hold filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier in, and I doubt that many people who have seen his previous films (namely Blue Ruin and Green Room) would argue that he hasn't earned it. They're both genuinely brilliant movies, taught and tense and impossibly tight experiences that each leave lasting impressions in very different ways, united by an approach to violence that neither glorifies it nor shys away from just how horrible and damaging it really is. So it was with a great deal of optimism that I sat down to watch Saulnier's latest film, the Netflix produced Hold The Dark - and a great deal of disappointment when I eventually realised that it wouldn't be offering any of the things that made his previous films... well, good, and uniquely, identifiably his.

The plot sees wolf expert Russell Core travelling to a small Alaskan town in order to hunt down a pack of wolves that have been killing local children, but that's really just a kicking off point for what Hold The Dark becomes. The problem? Even having seen it, I'm not really sure exactly what that is, a crime thriller dabbling in a strange, primal mysticism that defies both definition and explanation. Come the credits I was none the wiser about why any of the events of the film happened and what it was all meant to mean - and unfortunately, I'm not particularly bothered about finding out either.