[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

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (2014)

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Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Screenplay: Peter Craig, Danny Strong

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images and thematic material.

 

Of all the young adult post-apocalyptic stories currently drowning our theaters, The Hunger Games is definitely at the top of my list. The list is of good quality work, and the list is small. At just over two hours, the newest film in the franchise, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, takes the series in a new direction while setting up the final climactic piece to this series, but does it work?

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Yes and no.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has escaped from the Third Quarter Quell Hunger Games intact, and now she finds herself in the midst of a major rebellion against the Capitol and the insidious President Snow (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, Horrible Bosses). Her on-again-off-again real-but-also-kind-of-fake boyfriend Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson, Bridge to Terabithia, Epic) has been captured and might be dead. She is joined in her quest to take down Snow by friends Gale (Liam Hemsworth, The Expendables 2, Empire State) and Haymitch (Woody Harrelson, TV’s True Detective, No Country for Old Men) as well as the rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore, Magnolia, Non-Stop) and her second-in-command Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote, Doubt). Does Katniss have what it takes to be the face of a rebellion, and can she save the ones she loves from the dark and powerful Capitol?

First of all, I must say that I was in agreement about making Mockingjay into two films. Having read the book, I found that there was a lot of material to be mined from it and I couldn’t see a logical place to cut it without it feeling rushed. That being said, I felt that the area they could’ve beefed up and gone into more were not. We are thrown into the film without have a few minutes to start connecting the dots. I spoke to some views who hadn’t read the books to question their thoughts and they felt as though a little more prologue or something to bring the story into its frame of reference would’ve been appreciated. We also could have spent more time with some of our new characters and there are a lot of them, virtually all of them in this film. We could’ve developed Liam Hemsworth’s Gale as more than just a good-looking fella. There is some action for Hemsworth in this picture but it doesn’t feel as exciting because frankly we don’t know his character like we should.

Now, this movie isn’t bad, don’t think that’s where I’m going with this, but it could’ve had better pacing and more to it. We get some great work from J-Law here as Katniss, and some awesome work our second tier players Moore, Hoffman (in the last performance before he was taken from us), and Harrelson.

Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants) handles the material well, but I don’t think he added as much from a stylistic perspective as he could have. Think about the latter Harry Potter films, the ones directed by David Yates. Each Yates film in the series, although directed by the same man, has a different feeling and a wholly unique style. I could see a moment from Yates’ film and know which film it is. I don’t feel like F-Law has learned anything from last year’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which he should have. Again, not really a flaw, just a notice.

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The problem with most of these films is that they are intended to be viewed as a whole, so when The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 is released next year, I will take a look back at this first installment (or third, technically) and see how it holds up as a complete saga. Mockingjay – Part 1 is a strong and powerful entry in The Hunger Games saga. There are some truly great moments in this film, and we get a wide array of awesome performances and a lot of tension building for next year’s finale. It is, however, a step down from Catching Fire.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

Horrible Bosses (2011)

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Director: Seth Gordon

Cast: Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, Jason Sudeikis, Jennifer Aniston, Colin Farrell, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Jamie Foxx

Screenplay: Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein

98 mins. Rated R for crude and sexual content, pervasive language and some drug material.

 

I usually find one great comedy every year. 2011’s Horrible Bosses was a great comedy. My review for Horrible Bosses here.

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Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman, TV’s Arrested Development, This is Where I Leave You) has been working his butt off for a promotion, but his boss Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey, TV’s House of Cards, American Beauty) seems not to notice or care. Dale Arbus (Charlie Day, TV’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The Lego Movie) is trying to be the best fiancé he can be, but his boss Julia (Jennifer Aniston, TV’s Friends, Cake) wants to ruin it be forcing Dale into a sexual relationship through blackmail. Then there’s Kurt Buckman (Jason Sudeikis, We’re the Millers, Drinking Buddies), who is all set up to take over his boss’s position when he retires. Unfortunately, Kurt’s boss Jack Pellitt (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1) dies, and his son Bobby (Colin Farrell, Total Recall, Winter’s Tale) takes over instead. Now, these three have no choice but to get the help from Mothafucka Jones (Jamie Foxx, Django Unchained, Annie) to kill their horrible bosses in this dark comedy gem.

I love this movie. Most films don’t try the black comedy anymore and even fewer actually succeed as perfectly as Horrible Bosses did. I also found the story to have plenty of twists and turns to it, enough so to keep me enthused even without the laughs, but then add in the genius of Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis as the everymen along with the strong performances of Spacey, Aniston, and Farrell as the “horrible bosses” and you have a great time at the movies. Director Seth Gordon (Identity Thief, Freakonomics) handles this crew nicely and gives each equal laughs and equal screentime to boot.

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All in all, you see a movie like Horrible Bosses for laughs, and it has plenty. It isn’t a perfect film, but it is about as close to genius comedy as one can get.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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