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Film Reviews: First Man

THE BIG RELEASE

First Man

(12A) ★★★★★

THE La La Land dream team of director Damien Chazelle and star Ryan Gosling reunites for another film made in heaven — or somewhere close to it.

First Man compellingly retells the story behind one of the most iconic moments of living memory — when humanity first walked on the moon in 1969. Our reluctant, square-jawed hero is Neil Armstrong (Gosling), a scientist whose cool-headedness is partly due to his almost total emotional shutdown following the death of his three-year-old daughter. His journey to the moon thus becomes a journey to find himself again, which sounds ever so Hollywood, but Gosling downplays his performance with such restraint that when he finally allows a chink of emotional connection, it is earth-shakingly effective.

Like Drive meets Gravity with only a dash of Apollo 13, it’s definitely one to see at an IMAX but not just for the awe-inspiring space vistas. The mainly wordless performances by Gosling and Claire Foy (as Armstrong’s wife) are so nuanced and meticulous, you’ll not want to miss a single flicker flitting across their faces.

And make sure you get to the cinema on time because the opening minutes are unmissable. We are inside the juddering cockpit of a rocket as it busts, with an armrest-clenching crash, through the atmosphere into the calm serenity of space. In this zone, all is deafeningly silent.

It’s one of several breathtaking moments in a movie that manages the seemingly impossible — to rekindle the suspense of a mission whose ending we all know. It does this by avoiding cliché — there are no cutaways to flag-waving crowds as Apollo 11 blasts off — and sticking close to Armstrong’s inner journey, while Gosling keeps us all at arm’s length. A remarkable feat only a great actor can pull off.

The verdict

This year’s Gravity reignites the thrill of the first Moon race. Book your IMAX tickets now.

Bad Times At The El Royale

(15) ★★★★✩

From its stylish tracking shots to dark comedy and bursts of violence, Bad Times definitely has a Tarantino flavour. It’s actually the work of Drew Goddard (The Cabin In The Woods), who sets his thriller in 1969 in a hotel on the cusp of Nevada and California. As soon as a group of strangers checks in, there’s a sense of impending danger. ‘This is not a place for a priest, father,’ warns the nervy manager to Jeff Bridges.

But from Dakota Johnson’s hippy to Jon Hamm’s vacuum salesman, nobody is quite what they appear in this absorbing mystery. Chris Hemsworth puts in an entertaining turn as a shirt-shy cult leader but it’s Bridges who steals the show, along with rising British star Cynthia Erivo as Motown singer Darlene Sweet. Some subplots work better than others but it’s still a hugely enjoyable piece of big-screen entertainment with a cult feel — with just enough heart to take the edge off the carnage. ANNA SMITH

Mandy

(18) ★★★★✩

Nicolas Cage going postal on screen is now so passé it’s become an internet meme but the actor has finally met his match with Mandy, a grindhouse movie even more bat-poop bananas than he is.

Set in a Stranger Things era of 1980s pop culture references, Mandy is like loads of things you’ve seen before yet like nothing you’ve ever experienced in the cinema. A kind of deranged, gonzo study of grief and loss, it casts Cage with Andrea Riseborough as a loved-up couple whose remote Crystal Lake cabin is invaded by redneck hippies calling themselves Children Of The New Dawn. Bad stuff happens. Cage goes berserk.

Like taking a bad LSD trip with David Lynch through Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist and ending up trapped inside an early Iron Maiden album cover, it’s an extraordinary sensory overload that mixes alchemical visuals into a pounding score by the late Jonas Johansson (Arrival). After this absorbing, gory movie, you’ll emerge like you’ve crawled out of its guts.