By Steve Herte
First Man (Universal, 2018) – Director: Damien Chazelle. Writers: Josh Singer (s/p), Jamres R. Hansen (book). Stars: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Jason Clarke. Color, Rated PG-13, 141 minutes.
It’s a rare thing indeed when I view a biopic. This one interested me, even though I knew the story, having lived through the 1961-1969 period and followed the Gemini and Apollo missions avidly. My teen years were at times terrifying – the Cuban Missile Crisis – and extremely hopeful – the Space Race. This movie brought back that hope and, at the same time made me glad I didn’t decide to become an astronaut.
The movie follows the lives of Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Janet (Claire Foy) as they experience the successes and the failures of America’s competition with the Soviet Union in the dangerous fledgling manned space program. At the same time they have to deal with the death of their youngest child Karen (Lucy Stafford) and explain to their two sons Mark (Connor Blodgett) and Rick (Luke Winters) that Dad is going to the moon and he might not come back. That possibility became scarily clear after Gus Grissom (Shea Whigham), Roger Chaffee (Cory Michael Smith) and Edward Higgins White (Jason Clarke) are killed in a command module fire on a test of Apollo 1.
Janet probably would not let Neil go to the moon if she saw what the audience witnessed on a docking mission with an orbiting Aegina rocket and the spacecraft started spinning out of control. I for one would not enter a cramped space that rattled and shook as if it were made out of tin atop hundreds of pounds of rocket fuel. The effects were that good. Many times the photography was hand-held as if the audience was a press employee following the actors. Normally, this would leave me a bit nauseous but it worked in this film. The acting was superb and the characters convincing. The two hours and twenty-one minutes could have been shortened to under two hours by reducing the few scenes where nothing is going on, no one is talking and it seems like an endless staring contest. Otherwise, it’s an excellent movie.
I enjoyed seeing all the familiar astronauts in NASA history; Jim Lovell (Pablo Schreiber), Elliot See (Patrick Fugit), Pete Conrad (Ethan Embry), Dave Scott (Christopher Abbott), John Glenn (John David Whalen), Wally Schirra (Shawn Eric Jones), as well as the two other members of the Apollo 11 crew, Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll) and Mike Collins (Lukas Haas). My favorite line was from Janet Armstrong when her radio monitor was shut off at a crucial moment. “You’re a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood! You don’t have anything under control!”
First Man is a film worth seeing.
Rating: 4 out of 5 martini glasses.
225 Park Avenue South (18th Street), New York City
I love French food and I also love steakhouses. Boucherie has the best of both worlds, with The traditional French menu on a placemat-sized card and the steakhouse menu on a separate leather-bound card.
I was seated near the front window, a great location great. My server, Boban, was eager to please. When it was discovered there was no Beefeaters gin, he quickly got the idea of Botany gin and I was able to enjoy my favorite martini.
My drink set off the intense, garlicky flavor of the Escargots de Bourgogne, made traditionally and served in the familiar six-cupped crock with parsley, butter, lemon, garlic and shallots. The sliced French bread helped get every drop of the intoxicating butter sauce. The surprise for me was that there were twelve snails in the serving instead of the usual six. They were savory and a little chewy but great.
Despite having dined at over two thousand restaurants, I’ve never had a Salade Niçoise. I had my own ideas about the recipe and just recently heard what would make it interesting yet I was still surprised at the pan-seared Ahi tuna, baby arugula, Haricots verts, tomato, Niçoise olives, organic hard-boiled egg, fingerling potatoes and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The size of the dish alone was a show-stopper and I took my time enjoying all the ingredients. Everything was fresh, the Haricots were crisp, the potatoes were tender and the tuna beautifully prepared and delicately flavored.
As my entrée was seafood, I chose the 2017 Alain Geoffroy Petit Chablis, from Burgundy, France – a crisp, fresh white that had a little sweet flavor mixed with the iodine-like tang. It accented the spicy flavor of the Lotte Rôtie aux Coques – roasted monkfish, cockles, chorizo, white wine, piquillo peppers and spring peas. The spice from the peppers and the chorizo made the meaty monkfish taste like a new breed of fish. I loved the excitement of it and the crunchy peas cut the spice nicely.
It’s been a long time since I last had Crêpes Suzette, when the waitress spilled the Grand Marnier onto the table and blue flames danced everywhere. She tried to put them out with a napkin and set that on fire too. Such a memory. But I ordered them anyway. What arrived was not flambé, just wet, thin orange pancakes with a globe of vanilla ice cream perched on a peach half. It tasted as boring as it looked. Boban noticed right away and suggested replacing the dish with Profiteroles. I agreed, even though I consider them boring too. I was wrong. This fluffy pastry was not what I expected. It was a fresh-made sphere of sweet puffy dough that Boban covered in dark chocolate sauce.
The double espresso was very good but the Chateau Laubade Extra Armagnac was excellent! Again, a long time since I even saw Armagnac on a menu. It was delightful. I think I might return to Boucherie to try their steakhouse menu.