Movie Review: Ad Astra

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Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) looks for answers about his father in James Gray’s marvelous space opera Ad Astra. (Source: Cnet)

Brad Pitt has had a great decade. He got nominated for an Oscar for Moneyball, produced such amazing films as 12 Years a Slave and Moonlight, and made audiences cheer in World War Z, Fury, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Now–he stars in probably the most complex and understated performance of his entire career in Ad Astra. Directed by James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant), he takes inspiration from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Apocalypse Now (which he used a lot of in his previous film The Lost City of Z). I have never seen a more realistic portrayal of space. “Ad Astra” is Latin for “To the Stars”. I couldn’t think of a much better title.

For thirty years, Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) has been presumed dead on Neptune while going on a mission to search for intelligent life. His gifted son, Major Roy McBride (Pitt), learns that he might be alive. Learning about power surges in the Solar System, threatening humanity, he accepts to embark on a daring mission with Col. Pruitt (Donald Sutherland) to find him and bring him back to Earth. Fearless, he leaves his ex-wife Eve (Liv Tyler) to find connection.

Already stealing the show in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt leads a diverse cast while giving one of the best performances of his career. Although it’s never implied, it’s clear Roy is on the Autism spectrum. His biggest strengths are his courage and intelligence, but pay close attention to his body language and self-control. Even through his narrations, he is always thinking. Veterans Tommy Lee Jones and Donald Sutherland have minor roles, but both have their shining moments.

A movie like this, containing the theme involving the desire to reconnect with family, would have been as corny as Christopher Nolan’s pretentious space adventure Interstellar. What Gray does here is anything but. He hits the tone just right. It’s devastating. It’s suspenseful. It’s cerebral. And it’s visual dazzling–from the massive sets to the visuals. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and Max Richter’s neoclassical score makes audiences feel there are in space with Roy. Ad Astra needs to be seen on the big screen. This joins Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Gravity as one of the absolute best films in the science-fiction genre.

10/10

Movie Review: Loving

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Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) embrace in Jeff Nichols’ account on Loving v. Virginia.

Midnight Special, which came out early this year, is an overlooked science-fiction gem. It might not win everybody over with its mystery, it’s nonetheless a beautiful tribute to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Believe me, it does require repeated viewing (I have yet to re-watch it). Director Jeff Nichols goes back to an important time in American history. A time where racial segregation has become more noticeable. One day, two people have to face the reality of defying the racial barrier of getting married.

Richard and Mildred Loving (Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) are an interracial couple living in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred announces that she is pregnant, Rich decides to build a house in the middle of a wide-open field and raise a family. They get married, but since this is Virginia, the state has some strict marriage laws. They get arrested, and once they are on bail, they are forced to live in Washington, D.C. The couple does everything they could to settle this case once and for all. They are presented in front of the Supreme Court for the ruling of Loving v. Virginia of 1967.

A movie about the famous racial case would have been corny. What Jeff Nichols does with Loving is anything but. The subtle yet tender chemistry between Edgerton and Negga is one of the biggest highlights. Their expressions say so much, while keeping their dialogue short and sweet (in one particular scene, where Mildred gets off the phone hearing about some good news). This is a couple who fought for their lives while never letting go of that bond, despite their different characteristics. Adam Stone’s exquisite cinematography and the vintage soundtrack crafts a marvelous portrait of a rough time in history.

Of course, it’s not a Jeff Nichols film without Michael Shannon. In his fifth collaboration with the great filmmaker, he has a small yet wonderful role as Grey Villet, the photographer LIFE Magazine hired to take photos of the happy couple in one of the film’s many heartwarming scenes. Loving is one of the year’s best films!

4/4