Expectations can make all the difference when you walk into a movie theater. For instance, when I went to see Damien Chazelle’s new Neil Armstrong biopic “First Man” last month, my expectations were fully informed by the director’s previous movie, “La La Land.” I’m not really a fan of musicals but I was stunned into belief by that one, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites. I’ll defend it from all haters.
Unfortunately, my fondness led to precipitously lofty expectations for whatever Chazelle’s follow-up would be. I regret to report that “First Man” falls short. On the one hand it’s a marvel of careful observations and precise, studious execution. But like its subject, it’s forbiddingly remote—maybe necessarily so. In order to render his portrait of Armstrong’s extreme reticence, Chazelle built an emotionally stifling framework around his subject and the movie never breaks out of that. It’s a vision of space travel so authentic you’ve never seen it before, but it also never enraptures the audience with the wild unknown of space. I liked it, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t enjoy it.
On the other hand, I walked into “Bad Times at the El Royale,” a thriller from screenwriter and director Drew Goddard, with very few expectations, good or bad. If you’ve seen the trailer you’d probably expect a suspenseful, violent and perhaps quirky B-movie, likely derivative of the early work of Quentin Tarantino. That’s pretty much what it is, but it’s also really well done and immensely fun. I liked it and I enjoyed it.
Here are all eighteen of the movies I watched in October.