‘Ad Astra’ REVIEW

Brad Pitt stars in “Ad Astra”.

If you are a regular reader of this site you know I can be a bit of a tough sell when it comes to the scifi genre. Still, I try to have an open mind when I go to see any film. Thus, was my attitude going into to seeing the latest space epic Ad Astra. This film is directed by the always ambitious James Gray and stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut of the future trying to find his father (Tommy Lee Jones) in space.

ad astra3

The first thing I have to say about Ad Astra is it is beautiful. Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema has done a stunning job creating both the vistas of space and the futuristic imagery of the space stations on various planets. The way he uses color is quite mesmerizing. I was particularly awestruck by a sequence at the planet Mercury where the blue was so bright it could have been made out of candy. It really feels like you are in space while watching the film and that they actually went to Mercury during filming. Amazing.

ad astra4

The story for Ad Astra I’d say is serviceable while you are watching it. I was curious the entire time to find out what was going to happen and how Brad Pitt’s character was going to deal with all of the challenges along the way. There are also some surprising elements that I won’t spoil for you but they brought in some fun unexpected action.

Unfortunately much of the enticing questions of the plot were not answered in a very clear or satisfying way. Perhaps I need to see it again but there’s a lot of nonsensical randomness in Ad Astra. Scenes looked cool but what their purpose in the story was felt unclear. The movie also uses women very poorly. Both Ruth Negga and Liv Tyler are there only to be objects of hope for Brad Pitt’s character. Like literally they have no other character than to stare profoundly at Pitt and fill him with regret/hope.

ad astra2

Also, I feel like any good scifi films should have something to say: a metaphor for what the world is coming to if we don’t shape up. For example, Blade Runner is all about what gives a human their humanity. Wrath of Khan has themes of death, vengeance, and friendship. I have no idea what Ad Astra is trying to say. There are illusions of mental health and forgiveness but it’s unclear.

In the end, I feel very mixed on Ad Astra. I did enjoy watching it but left frustrated. It has so many good pieces that it easily could have been a masterpiece but it falls short. Still, if you like space movies and the visuals look appealing I can recommend it. It’s not perfect but I’d say the good outweighs the bad. It’s so pretty!

6 out of 10

smile worthy

Advertisements

‘PRODIGY’ (2018) REVIEW

It’s always a fun experience to go into a film knowing as little as possible about it. It is one of the things I love about attending the Sundance Film Festival. Occasionally a movie will get some hype during the festival but most of the time I know only the name and a brief summary.

Recently I had a similar experience watching a small indy film called Prodigy, which has just landed on Netflix US for all subscribers to enjoy. At first I thought it was the 2019 horror movie The Prodigy, which I didn’t have a ton of interest in  (I’m not a big horror movie fan). Fortunately, this film, Prodigy, turned out to be an entertaining scifi thriller that does a lot with a very small budget.

prodigy4

Prodigy stars Richard Neil as a psychologist named Fonda who is sent to a government facility to psycho-analyze a mysterious young girl named Ellie (Savannah Liles). She is straight-jacketed and under constant observation for her erratic behavior. Both Fonda and Ellie’s past comes into play  and they develop a little bit of chemistry as they talk.

prodigy2

I won’t tell you any more of the story but Prodigy is one of those films that feels more like a play than a movie and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Most of the time is spent between 2 characters talking and yet the tension builds to some satisfying and surprising moments.  I also thought Neil and Liles do a good job in their roles.

prodigy3

Where the movie fails is with the other characters and some of the script. In particular a military man who becomes angry at Fonda’s methods, and a man who is operating the observational room they are in, had some very cringy dialogue. It’s also not a very cinematic movie in its production and special effects, so it is perhaps best at a place like Netflix.

That said, I enjoyed watching Prodigy. It’s a clever scifi thriller with 2 good performances so if you are jonesing for something fresh and new to watch on Netflix give it a shot.

7 out of 10

smile worthy

A Wrinkle in Time Review

For years I have heard the novel Wrinkle in Time is ‘unfilmable’, and I always wondered if this was true. The book is very special and not something that I fell in love with until I was an adult. It was too out there for me as a child but I read it about 5 years ago and was deeply moved by its story and the journey of forgiveness that Meg goes on.

I have read so many YA novels that have felt cold and cynical (cough Hunger Games cough) but Wrinkle in Time is the opposite. In many ways it is like The Giver, a story infused with hope and a character that comes to see their divine potential. Unfortunately like The Giver, the introspection that makes A Wrinkle in Time work as a novel is difficult to translate to the big screen. I was very hopeful that Ava DuVernay would be able to make it all work but sadly the new film from Disney is a frustrating experience.

A Wrinkle in Time tells the story of a girl named Meg (Storm Reid) who’s father has left on a scientific quest and has been gone for 4 years.  She has a younger brother Charles Wallace, who is a genius, and a boy named Calvin whom she has a crush on (Calvin is so great in the book but just kind of there in this film). Unfortunately with the loss of her father, Meg struggles to connect with other students, and is angry with her life situation. One day she is surprised by 3 magical visitors, Mrs Witch, Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who, and she is led by them to help rescue her father.

This is all in the movie but it isn’t executed in a compelling way. In the book Meg is forced to make choices that cause her to grow and most importantly forgive. Here she is more told she is great and a warrior  but without having to make the hard choices. The ending of the book is much more convincing because it is her choice to confront the evil (even against the advice of others). In this film, it is more like she is presented with images, speeches and emotional things but never grows as a person. She feels the same at the end as at the beginning just more tired.

I said on twitter that it kind of reminded me of a Terrence Malick film but with a scifi story wedged in. I suppose one could go and enjoy A Wrinkle in Time on a visual level like a Malick film but at least his films have consistent characters who you follow throughout the art piece. Here we are introduced to characters that are then given very little to do besides present options to Meg and give speeches.It all becomes kind of tedious and frustrating.

A movie with a similar goal that works way better is 2009’s Where the Wild Things Are.  This is based off of the Maurice Sendak children’s book and sends its child on an existential fantasy. However, Max is forced as king to make real choices and his character grows so that he’s ready to forgive his Mother at the end of the movie. All the characters in Where the Wild Things Are give speeches but they also are well developed with conflict and personality traits that they struggle with. It makes the existential stuff work because we love the characters so much where A Wrinkle in Time let’s us down in that department.

I might also compare A Wrinkle in Time to 1981’s Time Bandits. Both films are messy and try to offer existential lessons (with similar villains) to kids. However, at least to me, Time Bandits is actually funny which makes it more enjoyable. Kevin has to face off against Evil but that is only after he has proven himself to be the smartest person in several time periods. He actively doesn’t take the advice of those around him but has to figure things out himself, which is very empowering to little kids.  By the end, he has become an independent character that is able to see past the greed that blinds so many others and defeat Evil. Time Bandits is also written by the Monty Python folks so it is at least has some humor in its favor.

Sadly A Wrinkle in Time wasn’t able to make Meg’s journey a compelling one. I struggled to stay interested as she was presented with advice and speeches but never asked to make choices. It’s frustrating because I love the source material and it had so much potential with a great cast and production values. Unfortunately, the script just couldn’t get there.

My advice is watch Time Bandits or Where the Wild Things Are instead or even better read A Wrinkle in Time!

Overall Grade- C-

I should add that the diversity in the cast is amazing and should be encouraged in future films.

Valerian Review

Today I had the chance to see Luc Besson’s new film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. It is an epic scifi fantasy film and I really enjoyed it. I’ve read other reviews with all kinds of criticisms and for whatever reason most of those critiques just didn’t bother me. I was thoroughly entertained while watching this film.

As you can probably tell from the trailer, the greatest strength of Valerian is the amazing visuals. Besson has created not only one beautiful world like they do in a movie like Avatar but he has created dozens of worlds and they are all beautiful. I was dazzled by the visuals in this movie. The pacing is also really strong as it clips along from one scene to another it doesn’t give you much time to focus on the problems.I particularly loved a sequence where there is a hologram market that is mixed in with a beach. The team is trying to hunt down an artifact and it switches between the hologram and regular world in very creative ways.

I wouldn’t say the story is the greatest thing ever but I found it unpredictable and fresh. Some have complained about the script but I thought it was fine. Some have complained about the acting but I thought it was fine. Cara Delevingne and Dane DeHaan have good chemistry and I thought they worked playing these investigators.

Rihanna has a brief but moving role as a exotic dancer/immigrant character. The visuals in her dance number were great and then she has to play off some emotion and I thought that worked.

I think what saves Valerian besides the visuals is it never takes itself too seriously. I am one of few who defended Jupiter Ascending but it definitely took itself too seriously at times. This film knows it is a light hearted lark through space and it owns that. I watched it with a big smile on my face from beginning to end.

It’s not a perfect film but none of the flaws stopped me from enjoying the film and having a great time. It’s not confusing like Warcraft or plodding like Independence Day Resurgence. It’s just a fun, scifi movie where we get to investigate a mystery in crazy places.

People love complaining about a lack of originality in Hollywood. Well, here is the chance to support something that is new, fresh and extremely creative. You might not enjoy it like I did but I think you will be glad you took a chance on something new. I am sure glad I did! I can picture this film becoming a bit of a cult classic but don’t wait for that. See it now!

Overall Grade- B+

As far as content there is a stripper scene and some mild violence but it is pretty tame.

Hit Me with Best Shot: Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind

close encounters posterOpinions are an interesting thing. We can have a response to art at one time in our life that is a certain way and then at another it strikes us completely differently. So was my experience with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Directed by Steven Spielberg when I saw it in my 20s I was bored. I don’t know if I was expecting a movie like Independence Day with alien action (which ironically bored me on the rewatch) but at the time it seemed boring.

Now as a grown up adult I look at it and scratch my head at my earlier thoughts. How could I possibly think this movie was boring? It has so many characters and so much going on that it almost feels a little disjointed at times (especially in the beginning). Isn’t that funny?  A completely 360 degree turn around for me on this film. Who knew!

I think what really struck me this time around was its commentary on media and communication. Perhaps it is just seeing the Republican Convention and the Democratic  Convention starting, but I’ve seen so many people passionately trying to explain what is crystal clear to them (including myself I might add) and being told they are insane in response. There are so many scenes like that in Close Encounters. People know what they saw. They sometimes have the scars to prove it and yet they are told they are delusional.

Richard Dreyfuss is so good as an electrician who has a UFO encounter and his wife and others won’t believe him. He gets more and more manic as the signs grow and that makes people push away from him even more. The same thing happens with Melinda Dillion’s Jillian who’s son is taken by the spacecraft and people still don’t believe her.

We as the audience have seen the spaceship in bright technicolor so we know they are right but the other characters either ignorant (lots of scenes of people playing unaware of situation), or chose to not believe and some lie. Is that not also how communication is today more than ever? We either don’t know, chose to not believe or we are lied to and that goes for both sides of the political spectrum.

John Williams score is so great in this; although I did think the ending with the music was a little silly. In fact, I don’t know if I needed to see the aliens at the end because they weren’t really what the movie was about. Still, it’s not a huge problem.

My best shot is probably a strange one as there are dramatic shots of spaceships I could pick but my pick goes back to this commentary on media that impressed me. It’s a news conference where the leaders are trying to explain away what the people know they have seen. I think the way this guy is holding up the plate mocking their concerns shows how we often do the same today with people who hold passionate views different than our own.

close encounters of 3rd kindNathaniel at The Film Experience is doing a week-long series of best shots for the 1977 Cinematography nominees, so Close Encounters best shots will be posted today, and the rest on proceeding days. None of the others sounded very interesting to me so I’ll probably just stick with this but you should check out the blog for the posts.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review

indep day resurgenceSo I had the chance to see the Independence Day sequel today and I will be very curious to read what you’all think of the film- especially if you are a big fan of the original. I left feeling like it was just ok. It’s not horrible but it’s not great either. Here’s my review on youtube:

However, recently I rewatched the first one and was honestly a little disappointed. It’s not as good as I remembered it. It ends well but the first hour and 45 was a lot of standing around staring at screens and talking. It was more boring than I remembered and the explosions felt more repetitive than I recalled. It’s not awful but it was a bit of a letdown on the rewatch.

Anyway, I went into this sequel with pretty low expectations. I just wanted to be moderately entertained and I’d say it kind of achieved that standard. There’s attractive people and some decent special effects. Jeff Goldblum is good and there are moments that are dumb fun.

Unfortunately for me it all felt a little forgettable and silly but not necessarily in a good way.  It just was ok. The acting is ok. The special effects are ok. The story is ok. It’s probably the kind of movie that will make a decent cable watch on a Saturday but not worth the $20 ticket price some have to pay these days. But like I said it’s not awful so if you are bored and need something to do you could do worse.

indy day2-2The story recalls a lot of elements from the first movie but none really stand out.  Like in this film there are multiple scenes where the band of pilot brothers fight the aliens like the Grand Canyon scene in the original and they are all fine but nothing special.  There are at least 2 scenes where a president or former president makes a speech and they are fine too.

One odd thing is characters are eliminated without much mourning or sense of loss in the script. Also certain characters try to provide comic relief and fail miserably. The romance is also very bland.

indy day 2I don’t want to spoil things but certain moments with the aliens are extremely silly, and I guess that is fun. There are actually different aliens they interact with which I thought was kind of clever and interesting. You see a lot more of the aliens this time around than in the last. You also get a little more explanation of why they are doing what they do.

The destruction is very intense this time around but you expect that in Independence Day movie. I guess I struggle a little bit with these kinds of scenes in a post 9/11 world. They just aren’t fun for me any more but that’s just me.

They also try to get you to believe Vivica A Fox goes from exotic dancer to doctor in between the two movies which seems like a stretch. The special effects in a scene with her are especially bad. Also the actor who plays Will Smith and her son, Jessie Usher, isn’t very good and certainly doesn’t have near the charisma as Will Smith. Liam Hemsworth is ok.

It’s a fine movie but not a good one. I can see having fun with it and I did have some dumb fun but it’s forgettable. Let me know what you think if you see it- especially if you are a big fan of the original. That’s just kind of my jumbled thoughts on this one!

Overall Grade- C

Star Trek 1-3 Podcasts

Hey guys! I just wanted to share with you guys 3 videos from my youtube channel. You might remember last year I discussed the Star Wars movies with my friends Abby and Jeremy.  Well, this year I decided to tackle Star Trek and my Trekie friend Tom has been kind enough to join me.  We just finished the 3rd film today and I think you will enjoy them even if you haven’t seen the movies.

My overall thoughts of the first 3 are:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture- I admire its ambition but the birth metaphor and long tracking shots of the ship bored me. Very self-indulgent and the story just isn’t there. It’s trying to be 2001 without challenging you with ideas the way that film does.  Grade- D

Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan- A terrific sci-fi movie with horror elements and a formidable foe in Khan. The finale is heart wrenching and the movie builds tension well. I see why this is genuinely considered the best of the franchise. Grade- A

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spok- Solid entertaining entry that fleshes out the side characters a lot more. I really enjoyed getting to know Uhura and Sulu more and seeing their banter. Shatner is good in his more emotional scenes and the mystery around Spok works pretty well. It’s not as good as Khan but I enjoyed it even if it is a little forgettable. Grade B-

What do you think of the first 3 Star Trek movies? Let me know in the comments section and I’d love your feedback.  The first podcast is had some technical challenges but if you can get through that the content is quite good.

We are going to pack in 2 podcasts next week before I leave for Spain (I’m going to Spain if you didn’t know). And then when I get back we will finish up the original series and do the JJ Abrams reboot films before Star Trek: Beyond comes out.  We will then do Next Generation in August.

Anyway, thanks again!  I am also doing my His Picks/Her Picks with my friend AJ this Saturday and next Saturday will be talking Harry Potter with Abby, Jeremy and Richard.

Make sure you are following the channel to get all the fun! And if any of you have an idea for a podcast or discussion I’m totally game. Just let me know!