Category Archives: Just Having Fun

Play Day

Space ranger, it doesn’t look like you’re wearing regulation shoes.

But they are so pretty! So I changed the space ranger manual to include these shoes. It comes right after the speed of light. It’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!

Check out my awesome weapon system!

Amazing XR…. Now we have to find Evil Emperor Zurg!

You found Nemo!

Hello Boo!

Mike Wazowski!

Hey, fellows, you look like you know where the pitstop is. RC is in need.

The Rust-eze team is at your service. With a little Rust-eze – and an insane amount of luck – you too can race with us. Ka-chow!

Time to play!

Pizza Night

Pizza, anyone?

Does it come from Pizza Planet?

Maybe, it looks like it fell from outer space!

Exciting news, Toy Story 4 is coming in June 2019!

How many sleeps is that?

Hmmm… Many!

What if we don’t go to sleep? How many sleeps then?

If we don’t sleep, we can watch all the other Disney Pixar movies. We’ve got them all!

Toy Story is still as big as ever. Bigger probably! There are now four Toy Story Lands around Disney resorts.

Toy Story Land in France is part of Toon Studio and opened in 2010.

Toon Studio at Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris
A hug from Woody!
Toon Studio at Walt Disney Studios Park, Disneyland Paris

Toy Story Land in Hong Kong opened in 2011.

With Woody and Jessie at Hong Kong Disneyland
That’s a funny story 🙂

This year saw the opening of two Toy Story Lands, in Shanghai on April 26 and at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida on June 30. Well, we’ve never been to China… And Shanghai Disney Resort also offers the Toy Story Hotel as accommodation. Having stayed at a Disney Resort Hotel at Walt Disney World, Florida, we recommend Disney accommodation, if accommodation is required, when visiting Disney parks. It makes a whole lot of things a whole lot easier and the accommodation comes in all price ranges.

But the most exciting Toy Story Land is the one at Walt Disney World, Florida. Especially as it comes with Disney Early Morning Magic and Extra Magic Hours. So America, hurry up and vote Trump out, as little bears refuse to visit while there is no sign of intelligent life at the White House! Buzz has spoken 🙂

Beary Mouseketeers

The Mickey Mouse Club is in session!

Mickey Mouse is turning 90 today and beary mouseketeers are celebrating 🙂

Disney is using Mickey’s 90th birthday as a monstrous marketing moment, with the company’s cross-promotional machine revved up to what may be its highest level yet. Every corner of the $US168 billion company is contributing to the campaign, which will intensify today when ABC runs the two-hour Mickey’s 90th Spectacular. Disney theme parks will be hosting events into next year. Hmmm…

There’s another reason to go to Paris in June next year, the colossal cupcakes at Disneyland Paris.

Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris
Disneyland Paris

Disney’s vast theme park operation is one reason the squeaky-voiced rodent has remained so embedded in the culture. The parks, which attracted more than 150 million visitors last year, offer the masses a touch point — quite literally. Walking-around Mickeys sign autographs and pose for photos.

For the current campaign, the Disney parks will stock commemorative merchandise, sell “limited edition” desserts and host a dizzying number of events billed as the World’s Biggest Mouse Party. There is the collaborations with a dozen fashion designers, including Marc Jacobs. More than 30 books document 90 years of Mickey Mouse, including one from Taschen so big it comes in a box with a carrying handle. Small and subtle are not the Walt Disney Company’s style 🙂

Mickey has come a long way since he was first seen on-screen in Steamboat Willie, Hollywood’s first cartoon with synchronized sound, on 18th November 1928.

The 1928 Walt Disney doodle for Steamboat Willie

Though Steamboat Willie is widely credited as Mickey’s first appearance, he was actually featured in a short cartoon that debuted to a test audience a few months before. This is a storyboard sketch for Plane Crazy which was first shown on May 15, 1928.
Mickey is pictured in a 1933 poster alongside Minnie Mouse, who made her first appearance with Mickey in Steamboat Willie.
Walt Disney posed with a whole bunch of early Mickeys.
Mickey’s friend Donald made his first appearance in the 1934 cartoon short The Wise Little Hen.
Mickey in the 1940 feature film Fantasia.
The 1947 Fun and Fancy Free was the last animated feature to star Walt Disney as the voice of Mickey Mouse.
Mickey and Pluto starred in the short Mickey and the Seal in 1948, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
Mickey Mouse was the first animated character to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was given on his birthday (November 18) in 1978.
In 1983, Mickey’s Christmas Carol offered a unique animated version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Mickey in front of the castle at Walt Disney World in 1993.
Mickey reprised his role as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Fantasia 2000, the sequel to Fantasia.
Mickey and his friends were featured in the Disney’s Mickey MouseWorks, a 1999 Saturday morning cartoon that marked the first time Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Pluto and Minnie starred together in an original television series.
Just before the new millennium, Mickey got a 21st century upgrade.
Mickey with his friend Donald who received his star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004.
Mickey, Donald and Goofy star in The Three Musketeers in 2004.

Mickey with Mark Hamill in 2014.
Mickey and Minnie with Puffles, Honey and Isabelle in 2014, Hong Kong Disneyland
Mickey with Puffles and Honey in 2014, Disneyland Paris
Mickey and Minnie with Puffles and Honey in 2016, Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World
Mickey and Minnie with Puffles and Honey in 2016, Animal Kingdom, Walt Disney World
Mickey with Puffles and Honey in 2016, Disneyland California
Mickey with Minnie who received her star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame in January 2018.
Mickey and Minnie on the red carpet for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, with Mackenzie Foy.

The Right Stuff

Is more like Sheer Damn Luck Stuff or Flying by the Seats of Your Pants Stuff.

After the second world war, the US ran a testing programme for high-speed, rocket-powered aircraft at Muroc field, later Edwards air force base, in southern California. The era also saw the early days of the space programme and the selection of the US’s first astronauts, known as the Mercury Seven.

The Mercury Seven in 1960. Back row: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Gordon Cooper; front row: Wally Schirra, Deke Slayton, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter. This was the only time they would appear together in pressure suits. Slayton and Glenn are wearing spray-painted work boots.

Tom Wolfe hung out with the Mercury Seven, absorbed their culture and jargon, watched as leather helmets and goggles were replaced by shiny silver suits with NASA logos. And wrote THE book.

Wolfe’s best-selling book was adapted for the screen by William Goldman, who then had a series of “nightmarish” meetings with director Kaufman; Goldman walked out, and the final writing credit is Kaufman’s alone. Wolfe’s book began with Yeager, who Goldman wanted to dump because he had nothing to do with the central story, but “Phil’s heart was with Yeager,” Goldman writes in his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade. Goldman wanted to focus the selection and training of the Mercury Seven, and on three crucial flights. But Kaufman of course was correct: The Right Stuff is a greater film because it is not a straightforward historical account but pulls back to chronicle the transition from Yeager and other test pilots to a mighty public relations enterprise.

The film begins with test pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) going for a drink in a local bar, and casually signing up to break the sound barrier. “If you ask me, I think the damn thing doesn’t exist,” he says gruffly. Then he falls off his horse while riding it around the desert in a daring competition with his firecracker wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey). He breaks two ribs, but pretends to be fine so they won’t take him off the mission – and then successfully pilots the Bell X-1, becoming the first man to go faster than the speed of sound. Yeager appears to have sprung straight from the Big Book of American Heroes – strong jaw, cowboy hat, horse sense, stoic manner – but he really was like this, and doubtless still is (he is now 95 years old). He last broke the sound barrier in 2012, aged 89, in an F-15. Total badass.

Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., President Dwight D Eisenhower (Robert Beer) and Senator Lyndon B Johnson (Donald Moffat) are upset that the Soviets have gone and launched Sputnik-1 into outer space before they got their act together. “How the hell did they ever get ahead of us?” Johnson bellows. The answer is swiftly and amusingly illustrated when his aides cannot find the plug socket to get the meeting-room projector working. The chief scientist is unflustered. “Our Germans are better than their Germans,” he says, alluding to the fact that both the Soviet and US rocket and space programmes after the war owed a great deal to former Nazi scientists.

When Robert Beer leans under the shadows, you catch your breath – you’re looking full into the face of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Donald Moffat has created a perfect LBJ caricature. John F. Kennedy is there as well, but in newsreel footage so skilfully intercut that he also seems to be a member of the cast.

As the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space, beating the Americans again, by less than a month, Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) has to settle for being the second man in space. As the Americans plan to retaliate with the first manned space flight, some think they should use an animal rather than a person. “The first American in space is not going to be a chimpanzee,” growls Eisenhower. Possible candidates for astronauts included surfers, acrobats and rally drivers (“They already have their own helmets,” says a scientific adviser, chirpily. “I don’t know if that’s a factor.”). The film is right that it was Eisenhower who insisted that astronauts be drawn from a field of test pilots – even though they would have little role in actually piloting the craft.

As Alan Shepard waits for take-off, he desperately needs to pee and has to go in his own spacesuit. This is accurate. The response of the German scientist to the request for urinating in the space suit is hilarious. “We did not think if this! It is only a 15 minute flight.” The scientists failed to account for the hours and hours of pre-flight testing during which time Shepard was strapped in the capsule. Because of the placement of the porthole windows, Shepard was unable to catch a glimpse of the stars, and he was strapped in too tight to experience weightlessness. Human chimpanzee.

Never far from the centre of the flame is the astronaut’s battle against becoming “lab rabbits”, subject to the prying and poking of white-smocked researchers who seem convinced that a chimpanzee can be trained to do anything that a man can do in space, and be far more tractable in the process. Later, there is the battle with the research scientists, who have prepared a capsule without windows, escape hatch or steering controls. And still later is the fight with NASA’s PR people (in the person of John P. Ryan), who want to extract every last inch of publicity from their daring exploits, no matter how much of their privacy is invaded.

The Right Stuff – Scott Glenn as Alan Shepard, Fred Ward as Gus Grissom, Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, Lance Henriksen as Wally Schirra, Scott Paulin as Deke Slayton, Ed Harris as John Glenn, Charles Frank as Scott Carpenter

Two men haunt Philip Kaufman’s The Right Stuff. One speaks little, the other hardly at all. The laconic one is Chuck Yeager, generally acknowledged as the best test pilot of all time, who judges himself by his achievements, not his words. The other is the minister at the Air Force testing grounds in the California desert, who officiates at the frequent funerals and is a spectral presence at the bar where the pilots and their women drink.

Sam Shepard as Chuck Yaeg in The Right Stuff

A newly arrived wife asks how her husband can get his photo on the wall. The answer: He has to die. We overhear a snatch of dialogue: “Sixty-two men in the last 32 weeks. You know what that average is?” Every time a pilot tests a new plane, he has a one in four chance of dying – or, as the pilots like to say, “screwing the pooch”.

Seen in the shadow of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, The Right Stuff is a grim reminder of the cost of sending humans into space. It is also the story of two kinds of courage, both rare, and of the way the “race for space” was transformed from a secret military program into a public relations triumph.

Reporters at one of the early flights of the Bell X-1 rocket plane are told “No press! Those are orders. National security.” Before long everyone is elbowing into the spotlight. The first seven “astronauts” are introduced along with their wives and families, and Henry Luce writes a $500,000 check to buy their exclusive stories for his Life magazine. Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson fumes in his car when John Glenn’s wife Annie, a shy stutterer, won’t let him into her house along with the network crews. “You need more than speed records in this day and age,” a program publicist explains. “You need coverage.” The Mercury program has to compete for funding with other budget items, and as the astronauts tell one another “No bucks, no Buck Rogers.”

The astronauts suit up in The Right Stuff

When the Kaufman film was released in 1983, it was hailed as one of the great American films, capturing the spirit and reflecting the reporting of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about the early days of the space program – a book that argued that Yeager (Sam Shepard) was so influential that his manner of speech was unconsciously echoed by commercial airline pilots while making announcements from the cockpit. Yet the movie was a puzzling flop at the box office. Some blamed confusion in the public mind between the movie and John Glenn’s run for public office.

More likely, even then, audiences were not ready for a movie that approached the space program with scepticism, comedy and irony. The original astronauts laboured under no similar handicap; they were heroes to Life magazine, but knew Werner von Braun and the German scientists behind the first launches would have preferred to have monkeys in the capsules. Yeager, who felt they were riding, not flying, the capsules, called them “Spam in a can,” and in a famous scene the astronauts argue for a porthole even though the designers argue they have no need to see anything during their brief rides into space – no reason to do anything but sit tight.

Ed Harris as John Glenn in The Right Stuff

But then John Glenn (Ed Harris) used his piloting skills to find the exact angle of entry and save a Mercury capsule from incinerating – something no monkey could have done – and later the desperate improvisations of the Apollo 13 crew saved that mission and their lives, inspiring Ron Howard’s 1995 movie. There was nothing the Challenger and Columbia crews crew could have done to save themselves, restarting the controversy over manned versus unmanned flights. But in those early days when the Soviets were the first to put a man into orbit, there was no way an American would not follow. The “space race” continues to be symbolised by human astronauts, even now when it is less a race than the loneliness of long-distance fliers.

Liftoff of Mercury-Atlas 6, carrying the spacecraft Friendship 7 and astronaut John Glenn on the third space flight of NASA, America’s first crewed orbital flight, February 20, 1962.

In early scenes, as Yeager and his test pilot rival Scott Crossfield try to break through Mach 1, then Mach 2, then “punch a hole in the sky”, to “where the demon lives, out at about Mach 2.3”, they’re watched by friends on the ground who lean against Jeeps, smoking cigarettes. Before many more years, launches pre-empt all other TV programming, and newsman Eric Severeid (playing himself) informs television viewers they’re about to witness “the greatest death-defying stunt ever broadcast”. By then the “capsule” had been renamed the “spacecraft” – even though it could not fly on its own and, smaller than a teepee, worked much like Evil Knievel’s original vehicles by strapping a passenger into a container on top of a rocket and blasting off. (After one launch, a pilot informs Mission Control, “the altimeter is working!”)

Those were the first small steps for man, giant leaps for mankind, and at the end of the road was the 1969 moon landing and other astonishing triumphs. But at first the idea was simply to get an American up there, pronto. “I for one do not intend to go to sleep by the light of a Communist moon,” declared Vice President Johnson, and Glenn agrees to take a ride on an untested rocket he is warned is dangerous.

That took courage, and in one of his longest speeches in the movie, Yeager says so: To sit on top of tons of explosives and be blasted into orbit was more daring than flying an untested aircraft. The astronauts of course were test pilots, too, good and brave ones; it’s just that at first their piloting skills were not needed. “We are the monkey,” says Grissom.

The star of the Mercury Seven is John Glenn (Ed Harris) – for he is both handsome and incredibly good at spouting wholesome patriotic platitudes in front of newsmen. “I just thank God I live in a country where the best and the finest in a man can be brought out,” he says. He is also the only astronaut portrayed with a sense of morality that they were now public figures and responsible for a certain standard of behaviour. The other men are shown to be “rough around the edges” – married men who slept with younger female fans, cursed, drank, and made off-colour and culturally inappropriate jokes.

Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff has been controversial for its portrayal of astronaut Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward). Grissom’s Liberty Bell 7 craft sank in the sea after the hatch opened too quickly on landing. Some blamed Grissom for panicking and opening the hatch himself. Grissom blamed it on a technical error. The film avoids showing the critical moment and thus leaves the question of what happened unanswered. In fact, Grissom may well not have been at fault – and the film is kinder to him than the book. Whatever the truth, the incident gives it a chance to show accurately the pressure that was on these men. “I wanted to eat in the White House!” his wife bawls afterwards. “I wanted to talk to Jackie [Kennedy] about … things!” Grissom was killed a few years later in the Apollo 1 fire of 1967 (shown in First Man).

Kaufman’s love for the Yeager character pays off in the magical closing sequence of the film, when the “best pilot in the world” eyeballs anew Air Force jet and says, “I have a feeling this little old plane right here might be able to beat that Russian record.” And it nearly does. On an unauthorized flight, he takes it almost to 120,000 feet (36,600 meters) – the stars are visible – before plane and pilot fall exhausted back to the earth. Yup, Chuck Yeager crashed a Lockheed NF-104A, and he survived. Both the crash and the consequences.

Beary Astronauts at the Movies

Movies have helped shape the way that we think about outer space since the dawn of cinema, with the 1902 short A Trip to the Moon by the French director Georges Melies being one of the first films ever made. Ever since NASA was created to help us explore space, Hollywood has glamorised the profession of the astronaut, making it look like one of the most cool, intense, dangerous, and difficult jobs that only true heroes are up to the task for.

For most people, and bears 🙂 , watching movies about space is the closest they will ever get to the astronaut experience. From documentaries, to dramas based on real-life space missions, to sci-fi thrillers, space movies force us to grapple with deep issues relating to the human experience, while simultaneously presenting us with the best visual effects out there. While many space movies are utterly divorced from reality, a few balance wit with historical accuracy. These few movies still have moments of dramatic licence, but overall they are terrific historical films about the space race: accurately reflective of a complex reality, beautifully filmed, and done with wit, energy and an impressive sense of balance.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff is a 1983 American drama film that was adapted from Tom Wolfe’s best-selling 1979 book of the same name about the Navy, Marine and Air Force test pilots who were involved in aeronautical research at Edwards Air Force Base, California, as well as the seven military pilots who were selected to be the astronauts for Project Mercury, the first attempt at manned spaceflight by the United States. The film was a box-office failure, grossing approximately $21 million against a $27 million budget. Despite this, it received widespread critical acclaim and eight Oscar nominations at the 56th Academy Awards, four of which it won. In 2013 the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

It’s next on our list to watch, as soon as we can get hold of a DVD! We expect it’s funny too! It shows President Dwight D Eisenhower (Robert Beer) and Senator Lyndon B Johnson (Donald Moffat) in Washington DC, upset that the Soviets have gone and launched Sputnik-1 into outer space before they got their act together. “How the hell did they ever get ahead of us?” Johnson bellows. The answer is swiftly and amusingly illustrated when his aides cannot find the plug socket to get the meeting-room projector working.

Apollo 13 – Bill Paxton as Fred Haise, Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell, Kevin Bacon as Jack Swigert

Apollo 13 is Ron Howard’s painstakingly accurate portrayal of the events surrounding NASA’s attempted third moon landing in 1970, which was derailed by an explosion on the spaceship that turned the mission into an attempt to get three astronauts home safely. NASA heavily cooperated with the movie by providing technical assistance to the actors that included astronaut and flight training, as well as permission to film aboard a reduced gravity aircraft to get the most accurate shots of weightlessness possible. The famous quote “Houston, we have a problem” comes from this movie, which is slightly altered from what was actually said during the Apollo 13 emergency. The words actually spoken, initially by Jack Swigert, were “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here”. After being prompted to repeat the transmission by CAPCOM Jack R. Lousma, Lovell responded, “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

Hidden Figures – Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughn

Hidden Figures is the rare true story-based historical drama that succeeds at being as inspirational and feel-good as it aspires to be. Hidden Figures tells the true story of three black female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s. Being an astronaut is pretty awesome and heroic, but imagine what it must have taken to excel in a STEM field as a black woman in the segregated America of the ‘60s.

Hidden Figures
In the Shadow of the Moon

In the Shadow of the Moon is an excellent documentary that focuses on the “Space Race” days of the 1960s and ‘70s, when the United States finally achieved the feat of putting a man – or in this case, men – on the Moon. The 2007 documentary features never-before-seen NASA footage from the Apollo missions, as well as interviews with the surviving astronauts of the era. It is available on Netflix.

Did you know that 12 men walked on the moon? They were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin (Apollo 11), Pete Conrad and Alan Bean (Apollo 12), Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell (apollo 14), David Scott and James Irwin (Apollo 15), John Young and Charles Duke (Apollo 16), Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt (Apollo 17).

The Last Man on the Moon

The 2014 documentary The Last Man on the Moon shows just how arduous, mentally and physically, the life of an astronaut can be. The documentary uses a combination of archival footage, interviews, and visual effects to allow astronaut Eugene Cernan to relay the story of his 1972 trip to the Moon. It is available on Netflix.

First Man, Damien Chazelle’s turbulently spectacular and enthralling drama about Neil Armstrong and his journey through the space program of the 1960s, also shows there is nothing tranquil or reassuring about riding in a dirty cramped rocket ship surrounded by buttons and dials. It’s closer to being trapped in some purgatory of explosive dread.

When Armstrong (Ryan Gosling), his body wedged into the claustrophobic compartment of a Gemini space capsule, takes off, the craft he’s on shakes so violently it feels like it’s going to burst apart. It’s not just that the ride is more rough-and-tumble, and more starkly terrifying, than anything we’ve seen in a drama of space flight before. It’s that the jittery energy on display is essentially industrial. Armstrong has been strapped into a machine that’s built to tear a hole in the fabric of what’s possible. That’s why the thrust of the ride is so violent. The capsule shakes because it’s a force of entropy. It stands for the world as we know it coming apart.

As a side note, at the Space Center Houston, there is a space simulator to provide a realistic experience of space travel for visitors. The realism had to be toned down considerably. Originally designed to provide an entirely realistic experience of space travel, the shaking was too violent for the general public.

Space simulator at Space Center Houston

Chazelle knows that the story of the NASA space program has been told before (quite memorably, in its way, in The Right Stuff). So his audacious strategy is to make a movie so revelatory in its realism, so gritty in its physicality, that it becomes a drama of hellbent danger and obsession. First Man, which is Chazelle’s first feature since La La Land, is a docudrama in the most authentic and exciting sense of the word. Chazelle restricts the action almost entirely to the point-of-view of the astronauts themselves: the things they literally see and hear during their missions (the movie eschews panoramic shots they aren’t privy to), along with what they’re thinking and feeling.

From the dizzy and volatile opening sequence, in which Armstrong, as a test pilot in 1961, rides an X-15 up into the black clouds, ripping through the air to the point that he almost can’t get back (mission control: “Neil, you’re bouncing off the atmosphere”), the movie is tethered to everything that he experiences: the random shards of sky looming up out of cramped windows, the topsy-turvy angles, the whole existential inside-the-cockpit zooming-into-the-void craziness of it all. Propelled by Linus Sandgren’s raw-light cinematography and Tom Cross’s hypnotic editing, First Man is so immersive in its glitchy, hurtling, melting-metal authenticity that it makes a space drama like Apollo 13 look like a puppet show.

The fact that space travel, viewed from the inside, could look and feel so much more abrasive and hazardous than we might ever have thought is part of the raw power of First Man. Yet what finally gets to you about the movie, and makes it a haunting experience, is that the quivery peril of being aboard a rocket ship incarnates something indelible about what the space program was about: not just a “new frontier”, but a culture’s way of defying death. The movie captures that death was always part of it. The steep risk factor, the sheer number of pilots and astronauts who lost their lives, the scary macabre thrust of the voyages — it was all a dream poised on the edge of an abyss. First Man bears the same relation to the space dramas that have come before it that Saving Private Ryan did to previous war films. The movie redefines what space travel is, the way it lives inside our imaginations, by capturing what the stakes really were.

Armstrong, as Gosling plays him, is a stoic but inwardly troubled figure who becomes a tersely triumphant warrior in orbit. NASA needs pilots with a background in engineering, and Armstrong is a superior engineer, which at times proves instrumental to his survival in space. First Man demonstrates that the astronauts, in case anyone doubted it, were much more than “Spam in a can”. They truly had to pilot. The movie follows Armstrong from the dawn of the ’60s, when he and his wife, Jan (Claire Foy), are desperately fighting to save their little daughter from succumbing to cancer. They lose the battle, leaving them with their son (before long, they have another boy), but the death of that child shadows Armstrong. It’s a reminder that loss is built into what he’s doing.

In First Man, Chazelle orchestrates a highly original mood of adventure drenched in anxiety. The script, by Josh Singer (The Post, Spotlight), doesn’t waste time on standard biopic scenes — like, for instance, dramatizing the backroom politics of which astronaut gets chosen for which mission. The film’s attitude, which mirrors Armstrong’s vantage as a loyal US space soldier, is that whatever happens happens. The techno-chatter from Houston, always crackling through the capsule radio (“We have your ground TPI backup when you’re ready to copy”), is part of the movie’s excitement, its you-are-there quality.

Once Neil and his family arrive in Houston, where they move into a tract-home neighbourhood along with several of the other astronauts’ families, Chazelle depicts Armstrong and his buddies in quick, fleet, finely staged scenes that nail the essence of their camaraderie — a kind of leftover-’50s straight-arrow bond that’s always hovering around the unspoken fact that they’re rivals as well as pals, and that any one of them might end up a goner. The actors make vivid impressions, from Patrick Fugit as the warm and trusting Elliot See to Jason Clarke, who plays Ed White as the sharpest and most convivial of Neil’s buddies, to Corey Stoll as the tell-it-like-it-is Buzz Aldrin, who’s so spiky and blunt about his ambition that no one can stand him.

Gosling gives a tricky, compelling performance that grows on you. He plays Armstrong as a brainy go-getter who has learned to hold what he feels inside (Neil, we learn, wrote musicals in college, and is now ashamed of it). Yet he lets out just enough emotion, especially when someone crosses him, to exude a quiet command. Shortly after he’s chosen to be a Gemini astronaut, Armstrong is strapped into a spherical training simulator that looks like a cross between a carnival ride and a medieval torture device. It turns you every which way at once, which results in each astronaut passing out, then running into the bathroom to throw up. But by the time Armstrong gets to ride a rocket in Gemini 8, the simulation turns real: His mission is to dock his capsule to an adjacent rocket, which happens without a hitch, but then everything goes haywire. The capsule starts “rolling left” (ie spinning out of the control). Gosling makes Armstrong a figure of intensely contained can-do moxie whose ability to guide a ship, especially when it’s at death’s door, is the essence of grace under pressure.

Like The Right Stuff, there’s no sugar-coating the spectre of death that haunts even training missions. The horrors of fiery catastrophe hang heavy over the proceedings, with the shocking loss of friends and colleagues amplified through well-judged dramatic understatement. The space vessels themselves are in constant danger of falling apart, accurately portrayed as an alarming collection of screws and rivets that Janet dismisses as “balsa wood” boys’ toys. It’s no surprise when someone asks for a Swiss army knife to do some last-minute adjustments. Rather than revelling in the majesty of space travel, First Man puts its audience inside a tin can as it shakes and rattles its claustrophobic way into the sky.

The suspense of it all!

As the space program comes into focus, with the explicit Cold War goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade, Neil rises in the ranks, going places no human has before, yet at every turn the journey is marked by the comrades he loses. Each new flight marks an attempt to do something beyond what the previous flight accomplished, so each contains a new seed of hazard. The missions are about the NASA engineers testing out their ships’ ability to orbit, then to dock, then to release smaller ships into space (the strategy that will produce the Eagle module that lands on the lunar surface). That means that every flight, from the first Gemini mission to the Apollo moon landing, is literally unprecedented. Everything is planned out, but on some level the missions are all acts of conjecture; each flight is winging it. That’s why there are huge mistakes, and huge tragedies (like the moment Ed White, Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger Chaffee burn to death in the cockpit during preflight testing for the first manned Apollo mission).

It’s no wonder that Armstrong’s wife is a nervous wreck. Claire Foy plays Jan as someone who just wants a “normal” life but is leading it behind a mask of frozen woe. As the film goes on, Foy’s performance grows in antsy, chain-smoking force, and we realise that Jan’s burden isn’t only her fear. It’s that it’s her job to feel all the emotions her husband buries. She knows how much NASA is making this up as it goes along (“You’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have anything under control!”). Armstrong and his astronaut cronies may be famous, but they’re a million miles from the public, from the reporters who pester them at press conferences, from the Congressional leaders who are tired of funding them. They’re in their own private bunker of frayed-nerve space dreams.

Throughout the film, Chazelle finds ways to come at his subject from unconventional and even playful angles. At one point, he throws in the Gil Scott-Heron poem “Whitey On the Moon”, to capture the degree to which not everyone in the late ’60s was on board with the space program. As for the lunar landing itself, that cosmic pageant finds its drama in the ironic matter-of-factness with which Chazelle stages it. Here’s one event that’s already fixed, in our mind’s eye, as the greatest sci-fi movie reality ever made, so First Man plays it neutral and deadpan, showing us the moon through the capsule window as a death zone of luminous rubble, then reveling in the texture of the powdery surface, the spooky remoteness of Armstrong gazing down at his boot as he takes that first step. It’s a staggering victory with a hidden hint of the surreal, maybe even the insane. It makes Neil Armstrong an American hero, but he needs to get back to reality.

First Man isn’t merely timed for awards season. We hope it gets all the awards! It’s also set to lead into the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s moon walk. 8 months, 14 days and counting. The year long celebrations are well under way. After seeing First Man, it’s doubtful that you’ll ever think about space flight, or Armstrong’s historic walk, in quite the same way. You’ll know more deeply how it happened, what it meant and what it was, and why its mystery, more than ever, still lingers. Beary recommended!

Amazing Desserts for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Breakfast at Dominique Ansel London.

Mmmm, cronuts…

October cronut – Popcorn & Caramel; filled with homemade caramel coulant and creamy popcorn ganache with a bit of salted sugar on the outside.

What do you mean we have to eat our greens first? Breakfast is always dessert!

Avocado Toast (fresh avocado, whole-milk ricotta and pickled pink radishes)

Yummy, an extra treat for eating our greens!

Cookie shot and Dosa Mille Feuille
Dosa Mille Feuille (puff pastry dosa shell, hazelnut coffee whipped Chantilly, lemon curd and candied lemon peel)

Lunch at Caffe Caldesi.

Panfried calves liver, butter and sage, mashed potato

Apple pie!

Dinner at Hawksmoor Knightsbridge.

Rib-eye steak with triple cooked chips, cauliflower cheese and bearnaise sauce
Ambassador’s Reception
A giant chocolate and hazelnut tribute to Fererro Rocher

Time for a siesta!

Not all in the same day 🙂