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November 13th, 2018

First Man: **

Ryan Gosling can’t act.

I don’t know how this guy keeps getting work. Well, I know he keeps getting work because he’s great looking and because his movies make money. But I really don’t understand how he bamboozles people into mistaking him for an actor.

Ryan Gosling’s most effective performance was as a cyborg in “Blade Runner 2049.” That’s because playing a non-human robot is what he does in every role.

Standing tall and looking beautiful in the face of adversity is modeling, not acting. I would expect a more expressive performance from Lindsay Lohan in “Sharknado 5: Great White Sharkclone” than Ryan Gosling in his next movie.

It may seem like I’m overreacting here. But I see a lot of movies and it would be awful for me if Ryan Gosling’s understated acting method became more common. It makes for boring cinema.

Some of the most ridiculous scenes in “First Man” are when Gosling’s Neil Armstrong learns that one of his friends and colleagues has died. “Oh” and “thanks,” he responds, completely stone-faced.

Darn it, Gosling, I know that there are strong silent-type men in this world. But every guy you play ends up being a strong silent-type. And characters who speak in complete sentences and laugh sometimes and have a range of emotion are more interesting.

So, I suppose I have to explain how “First Man” is getting glowing reviews and Oscar buzz.

Firstly, a solid 55% of viewers enjoy watching endless close-ups of Ryan Gosling’s face. Heck, I’ll bet if Lili Reinhart played Neil Armstrong, I’d have given the movie ***1/2.

Secondly, the action scenes in “First Man” are very well done.

Director Damien Chazelle proved that he is talented with his intense breakthrough indie hit “Whiplash.” Then he proved that he is ambitious with the extraordinarily bad and insufferable musical “La La Land.”

It turns out that Chazelle’s greatest talent is making realistic action scenes. I had assumed that the 1969 lunar mission involved one rocket ship flying to the moon and then flying home. Chazelle takes the time to explain the sophisticated truth about how men really got to the moon.

Apparently, a huge mega rocket ship took off from Florida. Once outside of the earth’s atmosphere, most of the rocket was discarded and a smaller space vessel drifted to the moon. Once near the moon, a smaller lunar module actually landed on the surface. Then a small piece of the lunar module flew back up to the moon’s orbit and docked with the main space vessel for the return flight to earth.

In other words, landing on the moon and bringing the astronauts back safely was a mind-blowing scientific achievement. The 1966 Gemini 8 scene where Neil Armstrong succeeds in docking one space craft to another for the first time is brilliantly shot and heart-pounding.

But every time an action scene fires up your interest, an awkward dramatic scene brings us back to tedium. Clare Foy has nothing to do but pout and glare as Neil Armstrong’s put-upon wife. We get it: Armstrong was a terrible, neglectful husband and father. It doesn’t make the movie any better to keep nailing that point home.

Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”) stands out like a diamond in the rough as the brutally honest Buzz Aldrin. Every time he says something funny and entertaining, the other characters look angry and confused. It’s like they don’t want to be reminded that the movie world they inhabit is so humorless and antiseptic.

At the end of “First Man,” we are left with a greater understanding and appreciation of the 1969 moon landing. But we have no insight into the motivations of the men who risked their lives to get there and we know little about Neil Armstrong. Thanks for nothing, Ryan Gosling; stick to playing cyborgs.

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