No “First Man”, But No Second Banana Either: Ad Astra

First of all, do you know what Ad Astra means? It’s a Latin phrase meaning: “Through Hardships to the Stars”. My former Latin teacher friends; Steve Beaulieu, Mary Belleville, and Susie Scoppa will appreciate that mini lesson.

But Ad Astra is also the title of the new movie by James Gray. I don’t own any movies, nor books; if I want to reread or revisit, there’s the library or streaming. BUT, if I was forced to go into outer space Like Brad Pitt does in Ad Astra, and take only five movies with me, I’d choose an older James Gray film, “Two Lovers” with Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. So check out that flick when you have a chance, gorgeous and emotional performances by everyone.

Ad Astra enthralled me, but to use a Palin, ‘I betcha’ a lot of folks won’t like. What First Man did with giant sound, Ad Astra does with quiet spaces. And you know how modern day folks can’t stand the silence.

Without giving spoilers, Brad Pitt goes in search of his dad, Tommy Lee Jones, who decided he’d rather stay in outer space rather than come back to this God forsaken planet.

The film does a great job in the first half showing the ridiculousness of an inhabited and colonized Moon, with Subway sandwich shops and hooligans who commit crater (road) rage! The suspense was built nicely throughout this portion.

I still enjoyed the quieter more meditative second half and appreciated Brad Pitt’s lending facial expressions and body language to nuance an emotional performance. And while I thought Chazelle’s First Man was better story telling, (and I realize that’s a Captain Obvious statement, given it was a true story) I believe Pitt is at the Diderot’s (author of The Paradox of Acting) epox of life where his emotions are under control, yet accessible enough to portray such gorgeous inner struggle.

In a contemplative mood, go see Ad Astra, you’ll enjoy the peace.

That’s not thunder, it’s Hitchcock applauding: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s penultimate movie to date; finally a substantive story over ridiculous violence. Granted, he packs the latter in at the ending, but Miss Violent Images No Mas hid merrily behind a sweatshirt. And when I’ve been entranced by beautifully portrayed good guys cleaning the clocks of well written villains, I can handle hearing the audio carnage.

Brad Pitt, hands down should get an Oscar. Stick him into Best Supporting though, otherwise, Tom Hanks will run him down like Droopy Dog on the train tracks as Fred Rogers in the Thanksgiving opening biopic.

And while Leonardo was also incredible, he’s had his moment in his best role in The Revenant.

The movie harkens back to such films as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, in that it’s the love story of friendship between Brad and Leo. Woven in are subplots of Leo’s fading acting career, Pitt’s dark past, and of course an homage to Sharon Tate, and her horrible fate at the hands of Charlie Manson’s minions.

As for the women in the film, most are simply eye candy, Margot Robbie the most prominent. Yet painting her as a saint is primo in great storytelling and the nausea it evokes in a movie audience who knows her real fate. However, two standouts, who spun gold out of small parts, were Julia Butters and Margaret Qualley, child actress and Andie McDowell’s daughter respectively.

One other male making a strong presence was Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, in one of my favorite scenes in the film.

The sound in the movie also deserves an award, from the AM/FM radio 1969 stations, to the television shows, were all perfectly unique. As was the editing.

My only tiny complaint was probably in one of Leo’s western acting scenes, where I challenge Richard Roeper who chastised Her Smell as bloated, but praised this as perfect. I think the aforementioned scene and possibly a bit of Brad Pitt’s driving fast, could have excised.

But that’s nothing compared to the absolute joy and heart in this movie. I’ll see it again for sure!

The Big Short Lands a Top Ten Spot

Steve Carell

The Big Short is worth seeing foremost due to Steve Carell’s evolution as a serious actor which is an absolute thrill to observe. Christian Bale’s chameleon expertise commands the entire screen with Popeye arms and a penchant for hard rock. Ryan Gosling’s solid as a smarmy dude, his only misstep ever being the ridiculously violent Only God Forgives. And Brad Pitt? He’s become the new Redford, like Wonder bread: sturdy, but maybe a bit bland.

So I’ve revealed the chink in the armor, The Big Short is not perfect. The jittery camera work’s bothersome and celebrities offering the common man’s explanation’s overly cute. The voice over narration is additionally bothersome. That being said, the sickening truth of the big banks plus the mega acting ensemble make the movie still enthralling.

So out goes The Gift from my top ten and in goes The Big Short.