[Early Review] 1917 (2019)

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Dubercq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch

Screenplay: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns

119 mins. Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language.

 

I knew very little of 1917 until I caught it at an early screening. The single trailer I had seen looked impressive, but I didn’t know about the task of creating the film that led to its most incredible and jaw-dropping feat, the fact that it was filmed and styled to look as though it were shot in a single take. At first thought, this film seemed like one that’s narrative may not allow for something as difficult as that to actually successfully happen, so how did it all turn out?

Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman, Before I Go to Sleep, Blinded by the Light) has been tasked with delivering an urgent message to Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game, Avengers: Endgame), and he has less than 24 hours to do it, as Mackenzie and his men are about to walk into an ambush that could lead to the deaths of 1,600 soldiers, including Blake’s older brother. Now, Blake and his fellow soldier and friend, Schofield (George MacKay, Captain Fantastic, Been So Long), have precious hours to complete their mission, and time is their greatest enemy in the journey.

Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, Away We Go) always has a unique vision to his projects, and 1917 is no exception. It would seem that his time with the James Bond films has upped his ambition, and 1917 proves to be his most challenging visual film. As I stated earlier, he and cinematographer Roger Deakins (the greatest DP is history, just saying) have crafted their film to look as though it was shot in one long-continuous take. This requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief, as obviously their mission took longer than 120 minutes, but it’s more about the journey it puts the audience in than the realistic time-frame of the mission. For the most part, too, it’s an incredible feat of filmmaking. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the expertly-planned shots, and it did trick some people into thinking the film was done in a single-take.

Care should also be given to the editing. A film like 1917 wouldn’t work without someone able to stitch the whole thing together and create the illusion of a single-shot, single-take. The pacing of the overall film as sequences flow from one to another is only able to keep interest if the editing works, and it does.

Our two leads in Chapman and MacKay do some pretty good work together. Neither of them are the best of the year performers, but given minimal dialogue and a mostly physical performance from both, there’s a level of strained-friendship and brotherhood between the two of them, something that war and battle have the ability to create in its soldiers.

The screenplay, Mendes’s first, co-written with Krysty Wilson-Cairnes, is mostly incredible, but I feel like it didn’t service the two leads with enough character development to really flesh them out for the audience. There’s some emotional beats in the film that would have been better served if the characters were more-layered early on in the film. Blake and Schofield are developed through their actions quite nicely, but I just needed more character.

The rest of the supporting cast is exemplary in the film. In order to elevate the two relative newcomers in the lead roles, Mendes and the casting director placed as many upper-talent supporting roles in place to help, and it’s great to see so many fine actors supporting the journey, and it works to elevate MacKay and Chapman through interaction.

1917 is an excellent war film, one of the best ever put to film. This is an instant classic in so many ways as it illustrates the unrelenting nature of battle and war and the toll it takes on those involved. It’s also a story of brotherhood among soldiers and a promise made, and I was absolutely enthralled in it from start to finish. For a film done seemingly in one shot, there are countless sequences that are seared into my brain and I can’t stop thinking about it. This will stay with you long after leaving the theater.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sam Mendes’s Spectre, click here.

Ford v Ferrari (2019)

Director: James Mangold

Cast: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal

Screenplay: Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, Jason Keller

152 mins. Rated PG-13 for some language and peril.

 

It’s weird how much I love racing films and movies about cars because I really have no interest or knowledge of them in real life. It doesn’t matter to me if they are true stories, like the one we’re going to talk about today, or if they exist in varying degrees of over-the-top insanity, like the Fast and the Furious franchise or Speed Racer. I just love car and racing films, so I was very excited to see Ford v Ferrari. I heard a lot of festival buzz and award love coming from my colleagues, and now I’m ready to talk about it.

Ford Motors is looking for a way to boost their sales, and Vice President Lee Iacocca (Jon Bernthal, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Accountant) has an idea: purchase the financially-struggling Ferrari, but when their offer is declined and they are made fools of, Henry Ford II orders Iacocca to assemble a team capable of beating Ferrari at the difficult and dangerous 24 Hours of Le Mans. Iaccoca goes to Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon, Good Will Hunting, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot), who actually won Le Mans some years earlier, to help with this daunting task, and Shelby goes to the difficult-to-handle racer and mechanic Ken Miles (Christian Bale, The Dark Knight, Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle) to get behind the wheel. As race day nears, time is short and concerns run wild, and Shelby and Miles learn that the difficulties in winning the race may come from Ford itself.

Ford v Ferrari is damn good, and a lot of that comes from the performances of both Damon and Bale. Damon biggest reason in taking the role of Shelby was getting the chance to work with Bale, and the two have very strong chemistry as they go at the various problems of their quest from different angles. Damon’s performance is rather subdued and subtle, whereas Bale’s is more flashy and juicy, but that isn’t to knock either. They both play to exactly their strengths and exactly the character they need to, but neither is trying to steal the spotlight from the other.

The unspoken star of the film is Bernthal as Iacocca. He’s the unspoken star of just about everything he’s in, and he never gets the credit he deserves. His way of dancing between friend and for in an effort to complete the monumental task he is assigned is really interesting and strong, and it’s only because of Bernthal that the character is as memorable as he is.

Director James Mangold (Logan, Knight and Day) certainly understands how to direct action from his time on films like 3:10 to Yuma and the X-Men franchise, and he does not disappoint here. It’s tricky work making a race look cinematic, although Mangold’s handle on it makes it look easy. Remember this is a film about people driving in circles for 24 hours, and yet, I almost never noticed that realization.

My biggest faults with the film lie in the somewhat bloated run time and the way it orchestrates its final scenes. This film did not need 152 minutes. It could have easily chopped off 20 minutes or so. In fact, they could cut the last few minutes quite simply as well. There’s a few scenes at the end, after the race is over, that I feel are unneeded and don’t serve the narrative. You can say that the sequences shown are important information, but we must remember that this is a film and the characters need to serve the story. I don’t feel like the last few minutes of the film do that, but that’s just me.

James Mangold’s Ford v Ferrari is an excellent racing movie, and it’s an excellent story of friendship between two unlikely men with a shared passion. Both Matt Damon and Christian Bale are great together, and the film is supported by some impressive supporting players as well. I highly recommend this one.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine, click here.

For my review of James Mangold’s Logan, click here.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Director: Gary Dauberman

Cast: Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga

Screenplay: Gary Dauberman

106 mins. Rated R for horror violence and terror.

 

The Conjuring Universe had a big year with the release of the distantly-related The Curse of La Llorona and the film we’re going to talk about today, the third film in the Annabelle series and the seventh film in the universe, Annabelle Comes Home. How does it fit within the framework and does it successfully continue expanding the franchise mythos? Let’s find out.

Ed (Patrick Wilson, The Phantom of the Opera, Aquaman) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air, Captive State) have taken possession of the haunted doll Annabelle, and now she sits within a glass protective case in a locked room of their home. No one is allowed access. When they depart on an overnight trip for work, their daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace, Gifted, Captain Marvel) is left with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween). They are both well-aware to stay away from the room and its many dangerous items, but Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife, Twisted Sisters, TV’s Youth & Consequences) comes over and inadvertently leaves the room unlocked. Now, the spirit attached to Annabelle has awakened everything that resides in the room, and it’s up to Judy and Mary Ellen to survive the night and get Annabelle back in her case.

My biggest criticism of Annabelle Comes Home is that I didn’t find the film scary at all. That’s not a big fault on it because, while not being very scary, this installment is loads of fun. I loved visiting the many different corners of creep within the Warren’s protection room. I really liked the new additions of the Ferryman and the Samurai warrior of the Oni (though I’m not yet convinced that either one could carry its own film), and there are a lot of cool setups and sequences in the film. I kind of wish that the werewolf was saved for The Conjuring 3 because it has a really cool story attached to it and could’ve made a really cool standalone film, but that’s not where The Conjuring 3 is going now.

I think part of the problem with the lack of tension and fear in the film is the director, Gary Dauberman. Dauberman is known for having a hand in a lot of horror in recent years, including several other Conjuring Universe films and It, but he’s never directed, and I don’t think he was as successful in building the tension. He has the ability to create fear on the page, but he needs some more practice on creating it on the screen.

I really liked the dynamic between Judy and Mary Ellen. I think Mckenna Grace and Madison Iseman have great chemistry, which is very good considering so much of the film relies heavily on these two performances. On the other hand, I was less than impressed by Katie Sarife. It’s a mixture of some poor writing for the character, making her a bit too unlikable, and the performance, which just didn’t do anything for me.

I like the addition of Ed and Lorraine Warren to the story. I think, while not starring in the film, they add a layer of validity to the story and really help to bring this whole universe together. It always felt to me that The Conjuring films were seen as higher importance because Ed and Lorraine never appeared in the other films, but I think that the way they are utilized here really helps with the connective tissue that a universe thrives on.

Annabelle Comes Home is in the middle ground of the Annabelle series and the Conjuring Universe as a whole, and this sounds like a criticism, but it really isn’t. I had a lot of fun watching the movie, but it doesn’t capture horror the way both Conjuring films or the superior Annabelle: Creation did. It’s still miles ahead of the first Annabelle film, showing that the filmmakers know how to learn from their mistakes, and it creates a bright new avenue for where this franchise can go next. Check out Annabelle Comes Home for all that creepy Night at the Museum-level fun.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Corin Hardy’s The Nun, click here.

For my review of David F. Sandberg’s Annabelle: Creation, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring, click here.

For my review of Michael Chaves’s The Curse of La Llorona, click here.

For my review of James Wan’s The Conjuring 2, click here.

Parasite (2019)

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Lee Sun-kyun, Jo Yeo-jeong, Choi Woo-sik, Park So-dam, Lee Jeong-eun, Jang Hye-jin

Screenplay: Han Jin Won, Bong Joon-ho

132 mins. Rated R for language, some violence and sexual content.

IMDb Top 250: #45 (as of 11/14/2019)

 

Parasite really exploded onto the film scene in such a dynamic way. It’s a movie that I knew virtually nothing about before seeing, and my only connection was director Bong Joon-ho (Okja, Snowpiercer), and even then, I’ve only seen one of his films, so I was completely blind. That, as it turns out, was the perfect way to see this film.

Parasite is the story of Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho, Memories of Murder, The Drug King) and his family as they con their way into good standing with the Parks, a wealthy upscale family, and the potential unraveling of their facade when unexpected new circumstances reveal themselves and complicate the matter.

Parasite is a film about classes and social standing. The Kim family is one of lower-standing, and their decision is simple: manipulate their way up, feeding off of whoever they need to. The film views them in a dingy way, presenting us with likable bad folks who are looking for their fair chance at things. It’s fairly straight-forward for a good bulk of the film before, and I wouldn’t consider this too much a spoiler, the film takes a turn that I did not expect, asking questions about the true nature of the Kims and the real parasites among societies.

The film flourishes with symbolism about the struggle, unbeknownst to the “victims,” between the Kims and the Parks. There are subtleties to the visuals of the film but Bong puts everything on display here, and through his obvious examination of the haves and the have-nots, he weaves a narrative that stayed with me long after my first viewing. Parasite has infested itself within me and I just need to see it again.

Parasite is excellent filmmaking, a story of manipulation and feeding off of one another. There are no good guys or bad guys in the film; everyone exists in a gray area. It’s bursting with excellent performances and biting social commentary, and the narrative is full of black comedy and some of the tensest plotting I’ve seen in quite some time. You should absolutely see it. Then, you should absolutely see it again.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, click here.

The Addams Family (2019)

Director: Greg Tiernan, Conrad Vernon

Cast: Oscar Issac, Charlize Theron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Finn Wolfhard, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Allison Janney

Screenplay: Matt Lieberman, Pamela Pettler, Erica Rivinoja

86 mins. Rated PG for macabre and suggestive humor, and some action.

 

I never really liked the idea of an animated version of The Addams Family. I just always felt like The Addams Family always looked better and worked better as a live-action film, especially when you high-calibre talent like Oscar Isaac (Ex Machina, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) and Charlize Theron (Monster, Atomic Blonde), who could both look and embody the characters of Gomez and Morticia Addams. But I nevertheless went into this new Addams Family with an open-mind because I love the franchise and characters.

The Addams family are not, by definition, normal, but that doesn’t stop the from living life their own special way. As Gomez (Isaac) preps his son Pugsley (Finn Wolfhard, It, TV’s Carmen Sandiego) for the Addams rite of passage, the Mazurka, Morticia (Theron) tries to connect more with daughter Wednesday (Chloe Grace Moretz, Let Me In, Greta) as she feeds her curiosity surrounding the town in which they reside, especially the local school. All the while, local celebrity Margaux Needler (Allison Janney, The Help, Ma) is determined to rid town of the Addams family so that she can keep the town bright, shiny, and unchanged.

First of all, there’s too much going on in a film that’s as short as this one. I didn’t care about the Gomez/Pugsley/Mazurka storyline, and the Morticia/Wednesday plot has been done better. I also felt like the Margaux Needler storyline doesn’t really go anywhere interesting nor does it really end in a satisfying way. There’s just problems abound in this film.

The voice cast is all fantastic except for Nick Kroll (Sing, TV’s Big Mouth) as Uncle Fester. His is a situation of being poorly miscast.He’s a fine and funny voice actor, but I don’t think he worked well for this character.

The screenplay is the biggest fault of the film in that it doesn’t really do anything unique that makes this film memorable. For a movie like The Addams Family, it’s so forgettable.Outside of one sequence involving Wednesday in school doing frog dissection, the movie has no truly interesting scenes. It’s just a mixture of plot points that have been done in better adaptations. There is no new ground covered in this movie.

The Addams Family is a very poor first outing for this new incarnation of the beloved characters. It made enough money for a sequel, so here’s hoping they learn some new lessons here because this first installment is forgettable and very paint-by-numbers. Skip and just watch the old show or Barry Sonnenfeld films.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Harriet (2019)

Director: Kasi Lemmons

Cast: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Janelle Monáe, Joe Alwyn

Screenplay: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons

125 mins. Rated PG-13.

 

It’s crazy to think that it’s 2019 and we still don’t have a major memorable release about the life of Harriet Tubman. Maybe I’m just not thinking about one or can’t bring one to mind, but I don’t think one exists. In fact, the film we’re talking about today almost didn’t get made at all, sitting on a shelf at Disney for years until they relinquished rights to the script. So with all that, how did it turn out?

When a young slave woman named Minty (Cynthia Erivo, Bad Times at the El Royale, TV’s Genius) escapes and heads for the border, she takes on the new name of Harriet Tubman and joins up with William Still (Leslie Odom Jr., Murder on the Orient Express, TV’s Smash) and the Underground Railroad to become one of the most celebrated slave-rescuers in history. Director Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, Black Nativity) shows Harriet’s religious views when she has visions giving her direction in saving slaves, and it shows her fearless nature in the pursuit of freedom for her fellow slaves.

Let’s talk Cynthia Erivo here. I really liked what she did with the role, and I think she almost-flawlessly plays the role of Harriet Tubman. Almost-flawlessly. My big problem with the way Harriet is portrayed is that I don’t think the visions of God that she has works very well onscreen. I think there’s a better way to put this on film. It just didn’t work for me. I really think there’s a way to get this element put to screen better, and I keep thinking how, if it were put to film better, then it could be considered a strong film about religion. I kick on religious films a lot because I don’t think they successfully convey religious tones in a strong enough manner, and I think with the strong production of a film like Harriet, this could be something really cool if it were pulled off better. Back to Erivo, though, this film proves without a doubt that Erivo is capable of carrying a lead performance.

Director Kasi Lemmons does some good work in the film, but her presentation is a little formulaic and straight-forward, and what she needed to remember while making the film is that there’s a lot of the same thing happening in the film. That’s not to knock the incredible thing that Harriet Tubman accomplished, don’t think I’m saying that. All I mean is that the notion of her moving slaves to safety could’ve been given something more visual to represent the journey. Outside of her initial escape, I don’t the length of the journey is presented extremely well. It’s serviceable, but not truly accomplished in the movie.

From the supporting cast, I really enjoyed Leslie Odom Jr. as William Still and Janelle Monáe (Hidden Figures, UglyDolls) as Marie Buchanon, a friend to Harriet who gets her on her feet when she makes it to the north. They are both exemplary performers who elevate the material. Joe Alwyn (The Favourite, Boy Erased) also stars as Gideon Brodess, the son of the man who owned Harriet in the south. I didn’t like the way his character was portrayed in the film didn’t make him a fleshed-out character. I think the way to make a powerful villain is more than just being menacing and violent. There are moments early on in the film where he interacts with Harriet about their past and then it is barely mentioned after her escape. I would have liked their childhood past delved further into in the film through flashback to help fuel his character arc. Again, Gideon isn’t a bad villain. He does villainous things in the film, but I don’t think he’s a realistic villain and I think the finale of the film would have been more powerful if he was given more to do than be menacing.

Harriet is a strong enough biopic on Harriet Tubman that is worth your time. It’s far from perfect, but it’s pretty damn powerful nonetheless. Harriet won’t be accepting any Oscars come 2020, but this is still a solid history lesson about an incredible human being and an incredible triumph of the human spirit. This is still one worth checking out.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] [31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 17 – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone, Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch, Luke Wilson

Screenplay: Dave Callaham, Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

99 mins. Rated R for bloody violence, language throughout, some drug and sexual content.

 

It’s been a crazy ten years, and we are finally arriving, once again, back in Zombieland.

Zombieland: Double Tap picks up some years after the first film, and our favorite zombie killers have arrived at a comfortable life in a luxurious new home. They are not without their struggles, though. Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, The Social Network, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) and Wichita (Emma Stone, La La Land, The Croods) have gotten past the honeymoon phase of their relationship, and Wichita especially is having a lot of trouble with the idea of settling down with Columbus. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson, The Highwaymen, TV’s True Detective) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine, Freak Show) have developed a father-daughter regard for one another, but Little Rock pines to interact with someone new, to begin dating boys, whereas Tallahassee would prefer the solitude of Zombieland life. So when Little Rock runs away with a cute boy, the others must band together to save  her.

I’ll make this one super-simple. If you liked Zombieland, I think you’ll enjoy this one. It isn’t as good as the original film, but it’s very self-reflective on the time that has passed culturally and a lot of the humor comes from the idea that these characters really haven’t changed much in that time. It’s regularly poking fun at itself.

The cast does a fine job again, especially Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee. Harrelson really matures as an actor in this role, and his is the one character that seems to really evolve to something new. All that being said, though, the best parts of this film are the new additions of Zoey Deutch (Set It Up, TV’s The Politician) and Rosario Dawson (Rent, Reign of the Supermen) to the cast. Deutch’s Madison steals every scene as a clueless woo girl that’s supremely ditzy and made me question how she could even survive this long in the apocalypse. Dawson joins up as the tough-as-nails Nevada, who lives in a bar that gets a visit from the gang. Both add a lot of flavor to the film.

The film is a little too convenient at times, and the additions of new zombies (very Left 4 Dead), new rules (not just by Columbus), and new zombie kills, while fun, don’t add a level of newness to the film. If this had come out right after the first film, I think it would not be as noticeable, but given that ten-year gap, I think the similarities stand out. Still better than the Amazon pilot, though.

Zombieland: Double Tap is fun for fans of the original film, and even though it’s just more of the same, I ended up having some good laughs and entertainment. This won’t bring in a lot of new fans, and it may not win over old fans at the same rate that the first film did, but I think it’s a worthy addition to the zombie genre, and I would really like this see this team come back together for a third installment. Just make it sooner.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland, click here.

[Early Review] Joker (2019)

Director: Todd Phillips

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz

Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scott Silver

121 mins. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images.

 

Well, it’s finally here, the prequel to the Batman series that isn’t connected to any Batman films. Wait, the Joker origin story that isn’t The Killing Joke. Wait, so what is it? It’s something else, I’ll tell you. This film is really something else…

It’s really getting crazy out there, and Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix, Her, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot) sees it. He’s down on his luck, living paycheck to paycheck with his mother, and he’s constantly picked on by others. He has a goal in life, to bring joy and happiness to the world, and he sees his idol, late night talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro, Raging Bull, The Wizard of Lies), as an escape. He wants to be a comedian like Murray, but all he has is negative thoughts. When Arthur is pushed into a corner, he finds a new way to put a smile on, one that will transform him into an icon all his own.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s film. There are no costars. The other performances are practically extended cameos. Phoenix makes this version of the Joker all his own. His performance is filled with intensity (his eyes are filled with anger) and depression. Phoenix researched multiple psychological disorders in order to give an unidentifiable character, one that could not be diagnosed. The dialogue and physicality is disturbing and unnerving to no end.

This is a film that is intense, unhappy, and joyless. Director Todd Phillips (War Dogs, The Hangover Part III), who co-wrote the screenplay, infused the film with moments that made me and the rest of the audience nervously laugh, and I felt bad for laughing after. There’s a weird feeling the film gave to me, where I felt like I was watching something I shouldn’t, or perhaps watching something I felt bad watching. There’s an emotionally disturbing quality to the film but I would say that those looking for violence won’t see as much as critics have proclaimed. What violence is in the film is very powerful and more character-focused than shock-driven. It’s more emotionally and mentally violent.

The biggest flaw I would have with the film is the final scene, but I’m not sure how I would end the film other than how it ends. I would also argue that the film contains fewer surprises than I expected. It’s fairly straight-forward. It’s not a true-to-nature flaw, I would say, but the controversy and the critical reception might be overselling the shocking nature of the film. It was pretty much how I expected the story to go.

Joker is a masterful film with a career-best performance from Joaquin Phoenix. This is a man in his playground, a thrillingly-disturbing character study that’s unlike any comic book adaptation I’ve ever seen. The film makes use of its unreliable narrator better than almost any other film ever has. Temper your expectations for any shocking revelations because this is a standalone film that is one of the more crazy movie experiences I’ve had in recent memory. See this movie, but only if you think you can handle it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

[Early Review] Ad Astra (2019)

Director: James Gray

Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga, Live Tyler, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: James Gray, Ethan Gross

122 mins. Rated PG-13 for some violence and bloody images, and for brief strong language.

 

I’m assuming Brad Pitt (Mr. & Mrs. Smith, World War Z) saw his Ocean’s Eleven costars George Clooney and Matt Damon receive acclaim for making a space movie, and he got incredibly jealous. Well, be jealous no more Brad. The balls in your court now, Julia Roberts.

Ad Astra is the story of Roy McBride (Pitt), astronaut and son to the famous H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones, The Fugitive, Just Getting Started), who disappeared on a secretive interstellar expedition some 30 years ago. Now, in the near future, Earth has been ravaged by a series of power surges believed to be caused by Cliff’s secret experiment, The Lima Project. Roy has been tasked with traveling to Mars to deliver a message to space, hopefully reaching his possibly still living father, in order to put an end to the power surges before they threaten the entire solar system.

I admire the idea of taking Heart of Darkness and moving it into the sci-fi genre. It worked so well as a war film when Francis Ford Coppola turned it into Apocalypse Now. The problem for me came out of an unimpressive shell for this film. I don’t think we got enough insight into The Lima Project or The Surge or many of the science fiction elements that would have enriched this telling of the classic story. The film kept being marketed as the closest thing to actual space travel, but then I kept getting hung up on the sound work every time there was an explosion. The film looked gorgeous, but my investment was wavering throughout.

Brad Pitt is incredible as Roy, giving a subtle but impressive performance as a man who hasn’t taken much care in his world as he sinks himself into his work, ignoring all outside relationships and distractions. The whole film is carried by Pitt as no other character is given much screen time to match him. In fact, Pitt’s performance is so internalized that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting at all. I liken his work here to another space film from last year, First Man with Ryan Gosling. Comparing this subtle work to Pitt’s other major film this year, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, just goes to show that this is an actor who really can do it all.

There’s a lot to really love about Ad Astra. I think, from a technical view, everything is seemingly executed quite well, but I just wasn’t drawn in by the story in the way I wanted to. It’s magnificently shot and the score is impactful and deep. The effects were strong, but the story just didn’t take me. Still, I would recommend you checking it out if you’re a fan of sci-fi, as this contemplative opera showcases another incredible performance from Brad Pitt.

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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