First Man – a weekly round-up of the latest films

First Man is released on October 12.
First Man is released on October 12.

Grab the popcorn for the newest releases in local cinemas. 

First Man (12A)

Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle takes one giant leap for immersive, nail-biting filmmaking in this thrilling dramatisation of the space race between America and the Soviet Union.

Based on James R Hansen's official biography of Neil Armstrong, First Man shoots for the moon and touches down beautifully by placing us alongside astronauts in their claustrophobic modules or next to nervous Nasa staff as they propel mankind into the great unknown.

Handheld camerawork, unobtrusive special effects and dazzling sound design leave us stranded hundreds of miles above terra firma in a similar fashion to Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.

Chazelle masterfully encourages us to hold our breath and bite our nails down to the cuticle with bold visual flourishes and understated, powerhouse performances from Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy as the husband and wife at the epicentre of the 1969 lunar landing.

The ensemble cast, which includes Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke and Ciaran Hinds, counts down to heartbreaking emotion, reminding us of the incredible bravery of pioneers who sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of a brave new scientific dawn.

First Man is a tour-de-force of technical brilliance, including editor Tom Cross, cinematographer Linus Sandgren and composer Justin Hurwitz, who added Oscars to their respective mantelpieces for their collaborations with Chazelle on Whiplash or La La Land.

Tragedy casts a long shadow over the Armstrongs.

The couple struggle to cope with the death of their young daughter Karen and then the family shares the burden of grief when the Apollo 1 mission ends in disaster.

First Man is an out-of-this-world experience that will be a serious contender for glory in next year's hard-fought Oscars race.

Gosling subtly yet movingly conveys the suffocating grief, which follows Armstrong to the surface of the moon, and Foy, his wife, is compelling in a smaller supporting role, refusing to accept that the brilliant minds of Nasa have everything under control.

‘You're a bunch of boys making models out of balsa wood,’ she rages. ‘You don't have anything under control!’

Chazelle, on the other hand, is firmly in charge of every sparkling frame.

Released October 12. 

Bad times At The El Royale (15)

At least one guest of a themed hotel, which straddles the state line between California and Nevada, checks out of their room in a body bag in writer-director Drew Goddard's stylish 1960s-set thriller.

Bookmarked into meaty chapters, Bad Times At The El Royale employs a fractured timeline and narrative sleights of hand to piece together an intriguing jigsaw puzzle of subterfuge, self-sacrifice and reckless abandon.

Goddard was deservedly Oscar-nominated for his adapted screenplay of The Martian, and here he confirms a flair for snappy dialogue and eye-catching set pieces.

His script withholds vital information about characters and their motives, and he confidently revisits key sequences from multiple perspectives to illustrate how the grim fates of hotel patrons intersect.

At least one tense interlude relies on incredible luck and split-second timing to thicken the air of intrigue but it's hard to resist the slippery charm of Goddard's ambitious design even when the film strains credibility. 

The running time flirts with two-and-a-half hours but writer-director Goddard confidently sustains tension.

Released October 12. 

Smallfoot (U)

Curiosity killed the yak in director Karey Kirkpatrick's effervescent computer-animated romp, which follows an inquisitive Yeti (voiced by Channing Tatum), who comes in from the cold to prove the existence of a race of diminutive hairless creatures called humans.

Smallfoot is festooned with far-from-abominable snowmen and snowwomen, who live in a thriving mountain-top community, which is hidden from prying eyes by a ring of high-altitude cloud.

Ignorance is bliss until one member of the community publicly challenges the veracity of the runes and forces his fellow Yetis to ask probing questions of the people in power. 

Kirkpatrick's film is a charming adventure. 

Released October 12. 

Venom (15)

In nature, venom is a perfectly engineered toxin, which enters the body of unsuspecting prey and impairs vital functions, leading to paralysis or, in some circumstances, death.

Ruben Fleischer's big-budget spin-off from the Spider-Man universe crashes and burns in spectacular fashion as it introduces audiences to one of the webslinger's most fearsome adversaries. On the big screen, Venom is a toxic origin story torn from the pages of Marvel Comics, which bludgeons the senses of unsuspecting cinemagoers with digital effects, leading to confusion or, in some circumstances, death by boredom.

Out now.