For a re­view of “First Man,”

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Neil Arm­strong set foot on the face of the moon on July 20, 1969. It was likened to Colum­bus dis­cov­er­ing the New World, an open­ing to the heav­ens, a “giant leap” for mankind.

And yet, nearly 50 years later, it is not ex­actly a top-of­mind re­mem­brance. The sci­ence, en­gi­neer­ing and de­ter­mi­na­tion re­quired to get him there were amaz­ing. But now it all seems some­what ho­hum. Yeah, we got to the moon. And then what?

Damien Chazelle’s new film “First Man,” star­ring Ryan Gosling as the as­tro­naut, reaches back to the early days of the Amer­i­can space pro­gram when the watch­word was fail­ure. The So­vi­ets were kick­ing our butts in space, but by God, we were go­ing to beat them to the moon. Pres­i­dent Kennedy promised it in 1961.

If you are look­ing for wallto-wall testos­terone-fu­eled hero­ics or nail-bit­ing space ad­ven­tures, look else­where. If you are look­ing for a wel­lacted char­ac­ter study, this is your film. Gosling is ex­cel­lent as Arm­strong, as is Claire Foy (“The Crown”) as his wife, Janet.

There are some grip­ping mo­ments in “First Man” — train­ing-gone-wrong, the sweaty claus­tro­pho­bia of be­ing strapped on top of a rocket, the su­per-shaky sen­sa­tion dur­ing liftoff. You get the as­tro­nauts’ point of view as they reach for the sky, and the clang and clicks of all the metal and tech­nol­ogy. But this is mostly a hu­man, Earth-bound saga. Screen­writer Josh Singer adapted the story from the 2005 book by James R. Hansen (who in­ter­viewed Arm­strong for more than 50 hours).

Gosling por­trays Arm­strong as a quiet, hum­ble soul, who, de­spite his suc­cess and fame, pos­sessed very lit­tle ego. Chazelle and Gosling col­lab­o­rated on the ac­claimed “La La Land” in 2016, and once again it’s a happy mar­riage be­tween direc­tor and star, as Gosling’s per­for­mance rises above the less stir­ring as­pects of the script. Gosling con­veys Arm­strong’s in­ter­nal angst in highly ef­fec­tive ways.

The great tragedy of Neil and Janet’s mar­riage was the loss of their daugh­ter, Karen, from a brain tu­mor, when she was 2 years old. It is the sub­text that runs through­out the nar­ra­tive, and, ac­cord­ing to the film, had much more im­pact on Arm­strong than con­quer­ing the heav­ens.

We don’t get to know too many oth­ers at NASA. You will learn much more about them in films such as Philip Kauf­man’s “The Right Stuff ” and Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13.” The likes of Deke Slay­ton (Kyle Chan­dler), Gene Kranz (Ciaran Hinds), Gus Gris­som (Shea Whigham), Ed White (Ja­son Clarke) and Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) are on hand, but in “First Man,” they serve more as back­ground noise.

For some rea­son Chazelle de­cided to make most of the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters name­less and sketchy. It al­lows us to see the world from Arm­strong’s per­spec­tive, but we would be much more in­vested in these char­ac­ters if we re­ally knew who they were, es­pe­cially when tragedy strikes.

On the up­side, there are some in­ter­est­ing slices of his­tory, with the voices of Wal­ter Cronkite and Mike Wal­lace cov­er­ing the space race, and a chill­ing read­ing of the pre­pared gov­ern­ment state­ment about the doomed as­tro­nauts had the moon mis­sion failed.

Arm­strong, who died in 2012, shunned the lime­light. He was born in Wa­pakoneta, Ohio, then moved all over the state with his fam­ily, set­tling in his post-NASA years out­side of Cincin­nati.

Ac­cord­ing to Hansen’s book, Arm­strong was cho­sen to be the first hu­man on the moon be­cause he epit­o­mized calm and con­fi­dence. De­spite ru­mors that his fa­mous, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” line was cre­ated by NASA’s PR team, it ac­tu­ally came from the man him­self.

Arm­strong was hum­ble, quiet and fiercely fo­cused. If noth­ing else, he would ap­pre­ci­ate the dig­nity and strength wrapped in Gosling’s per­for­mance.

“First Man,” a Uni­ver­sal PIc­tures re­lease, is rated Rated PG-13 for some ma­ture the­matic el­e­ments in­volv­ing peril, and brief strong lan­guage. Run­ning time: 141 min­utes. ★★★½

“Bad Times at the El Royale”

The setup of “Bad Times at the El Royale” sounds fa­mil­iar, even cliche: Seven strangers, each with a skele­ton in the closet, find them­selves thrown to­gether at a ho­tel that has seen bet­ter days, and that it­self hides a se­cret — one that is re­vealed in the short, wham-bam pro­logue that sets the stage for this 1969-set film, which is part B-movie sendup, part noirish hy­brid of mys­tery and black com­edy, and all orig­i­nal.

The name of its writer and direc­tor, Drew God­dard, may not mean any­thing to some. But any­one who has seen God­dard’s only pre­vi­ous film, the meta-hor­ror movie “The Cabin in the Woods,” or who knows his work as a writer on such projects as “Lost,” “Buffy the Vam­pire Slayer” and the Os­car-nom­i­nated adap­ta­tion of “The Mar­tian,” will know to ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

Not all of its sur­prises are pleas­ant ones, but there is a cer­tain sat­is­fac­tion in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a yarn that is so ob­sti­nately un-an­tic­i­pat­able.

Set in the tit­u­lar ho­tel, a Lake Ta­hoe-area lodge that strad­dles the Ne­vada-Cal­i­for­nia line, the ac­tion of the film takes place on a night when the front-desk clerk of the nor­mally god­for­saken inn (Lewis Pull­man) is sud­denly over­whelmed by small scram­ble for rooms. A trav­el­ing vac­u­um­cleaner sales­man (Jon Hamm), apriest (Jeff Bridges), a lounge singer (Cyn­thia Erivo) and a hip­pie (Dakota John­son) — or four peo­ple who claim to be those things — show up at about the same time, lug­ging more metaphor­i­cal bag­gage than the real kind.

It sounds like the pre­lude to a joke. And in some ways it is one. With a Taranti­noesque sound­track of vin­tage R&B and clas­sic pop-rock tunes play­ing over much of this soon-to-turn-lurid-and-bloody tale, the film feels (and sounds) at times like a par­ody of some­thing. But of what, it’s not ex­actly clear.

“Bad Times” is pe­riod-per­fect, with gor­geous pro­duc­tion de­sign (by Martin Whist) and a moody score (by Michael Gi­acchino), but it’s also a lit­tle too per­fect: a 21stcen­tury wisen­heimer’s ap­pro­pri­a­tion — and re­ca­pit­u­la­tion — of an era that ap­pears more vivid and col­or­ful than the orig­i­nal ever was, be­cause it’s a fan­tasy.

Wo­ven into this fan­tasy, over a slightly over­long run­ning time, are nar­ra­tive threads in­volv­ing the Viet­nam War, a Man­son-like cult and the civil rights strug­gle. But God­dard never wields these themes to score dif­fi­cult so­ciopo­lit­i­cal points. Rather, he seems more in­ter­ested in the 1960s as an idea — a good­look­ing nar­ra­tive de­vice — rather than a real and tur­bu­lent time. It’s a beau­ti­ful pic­ture frame, sur­round­ing a lot of ug­li­ness and vi­o­lence.

More in­deli­ble even than the art di­rec­tion, how­ever, is the cast, which is headed up by Bridges in the kind of tough-but-ten­der per­for­mance he seems ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing with his hands tied be­hind his back (and, in fact, his char­ac­ter is bound in the film’s crazy cli­max, which lurches hither and yon, for bet­ter and for worse). Paired off against him is Erivo’s Dar­lene Sweet, a Reno songstress with the bluesy voice of a honky-tonk an­gel who is strug­gling to make it in the racist, sex­ist world of show­biz. Erivo, a 2016 Tony Award win­ner for the mu­si­cal “The Color Pur­ple,” is the film’s break­out star, mak­ing her up­com­ing role in “Wi­d­ows” even more of a must-see.

Chris Hemsworth, who also starred in God­dard’s “Cabin,” com­pen­sates for get­ting dis­patched rel­a­tively early in that film by show­ing up very late in the game here, in a darker role than fans of his “Thor” movies may know what to do with.

At least I didn’t. “Bad Times at the El Royale” cer­tainly goes places you wouldn’t pre­dict, but it’s not al­ways ev­i­dent why. Like the name­sake ho­tel, which boasts a red line run­ning through its lobby - one side the home state of Tin­sel­town, the other Sin City “Bad Times at the El Royale” is a schizoid thing: ter­ri­bly, ter­ri­bly en­ter­tain­ing, and at times just a wee bit soul­less.

“Bad Times at the El Royale,” a Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated R for-strong vi­o­lence, strong lan­guage, some drug el­e­ments and brief nu­dity. Run­ning time: 140 min­utes.



Jeff Bridges, left, and Cyn­thia Erivo star in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox film “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

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