Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Ad Astra Review

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

A journey into the mystic mind of James Grey, Ad Astra kicks the list off with a somber journey into the deeply unsettling unknown both literally and figuratively. As Brad Pitt embarks further out into deep space in search of a missing exploration craft on Neptune, he’s forced to face the fragile turmoil within himself. Certainly space films have been stunning before, and sure they’ve been contemplative, but rarely have the two gone hand in hand so masterfully.

Each crafted image imprints on the mind of the viewer the stunning and relentless awe. Pitting our protagonist against a series of events so cosmic and violent that they reflect his struggle to combat his very nature. As a man brought up to value brain over heart, consistency in character over emotional resonance, we grow to understand the forces working against us are working against his core essence.

The film is a stunning painting frame to frame and the third act, while easily the most problematic in its convenient conclusion and whiplash inducing exposition to kick it off, features some of the best work in Brad Pitt’s already sterling career complimented by an equally mesmerising Tommy Lee Jones. 9/10

Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Ad Astra Review

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

I can fully understand that when you haven’t heard from a friend who lives a few blocks away for a long time, you get prepped and plan a visit to the person in question. Just like that. Just to find out why he or she hasn’t been in touch all this time. And to check whether everything is still alright. In most cases, you’re actually not going to experience anything exciting or breathtaking along the way. Now, extrapolate this situation to a much greater distance. From Earth to Neptune, for example. That’s an enormously long time that you are on the road. And if you’re lucky, you won’t come across any life-threatening or perilous situations either. In short, you are on a spaceship, feeling at ease and try to kill some time. Maintaining your ecosystem daily. Going through your huge pile of magazines full of crosswords that need to be solved. Or you give your spaceship a decent scrubbing every week. All sorts of things so as not to get mad out of boredom. I’m afraid that many home viewers will do the same things while watching “Ad Astra“.
Claiming that there’s really nothing happening in “Ad Astra” is, of course, a bit exaggerated. For example, there are space pirates on the moon targeting the convoy, with Brad Pitt among the travellers. Apparently, building a high-tech space station on the moon is a piece of cake. But a solid defence system to throw naughty space pirates back into the infinite galaxy (far, far away) was apparently too much to ask. Next, there’s also a run-in with a crazy primate on a space ship in distress. And the end of the film is also provided with some fragments that are more action-rich. But most of this two-hour-long SF is nevertheless filled with a lot of complaining, staring at an undefined point and moments of self-reflection. To be honest, I’d call it a demonstration of navel-gazing among the stars.

I confess. I expected something completely different. Let me put it this way. I would have preferred “Ad Astra” to be more in the corner of films such as “Interstellar” or “Gravity” (although I wasn’t a big fan of the latter). The first is a more scientifically oriented SF about black holes and dimensions and whatnot. While “Gravity” wanted to be the most populistic one. And this by having George Clooney and Sandra Bullock make a round dance in space. I link “Ad Astra” to a movie like “High Life“. This was also such a film where the aspect of human psychology and conflict situations between individuals took centre stage. And just like the other listed movies, there are some amazing visual highlights in this movie. Those images of space looked impressive on the large silver screen despite their minimalistic character at certain moments. But then again, I wasn’t waiting for a story about an intergalactic father-son relationship with all its ups and downs.

The most impressive thing about the film? The acting by Brad Pitt. The way he plays the astronaut Roy McBride is simply stunning. An autistic character whose numbness and phlegmatic nature make him a suitable candidate for carrying out such an expedition. The way he performs the psychological evaluation tests bears witness to total body control and lack of emotions. Roy McBride is a person whose heart rate never exceeds 80 beats per minute. Not even in a life-threatening situation when he tumbles out of the atmosphere. And the way he shows how emotions slowly seep into his system is simply admirable. After “Once upon a time … in Hollywood” this is also a rendition with which he could receive a well-known award. They also managed to bait star actors such as Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, and Tommy Lee Jones. The roles of the first two, however, have little to no impact.

“Ad Astra” is not an epic space story full of sensational space battles or creatively worked out aliens. Apart from some sporadically added action-rich scenes, this is a film full of philosophical musings and impressions of weighty loneliness. I fear that the opinions about “Ad Astra” will be divided. Some will regard it as the most moving film of the year. In general, the Film Press has words of praise for it. So trust me, it’s a film that will be loved by the connoisseurs of the “better” film. Others are more likely to call it plain boring. The message about the loss of a parent and the search for that parent is kind of obvious. There’s even a theological theme to discern. The result, however, is an end-product that looks long-winded with a denouement which isn’t really satisfying. Well, I’m sure that an Oscar nomination will be in place next year. But for me, it remains an honourable mention.

The Silence (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

The Silence Review

Director: John R. Leonetti
Writers: Carey Van Dyke (screenplay by), Shane Van Dyke (screenplay by)
Stars: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto

There are still certainties in this world. First of all, you can expect that if a type of movie has enormous success, something similar will appear in no time. A matter of surfing on the wave of success, I guess. “The Silence” resembles, for instance, the successful film “A Quiet Place”. It’s not exactly the same thing, but there are a huge number of similarities with the latter (And yes, I know both films were made almost simultaneously, and it’s based on a novel from 2015. But still!). And then it appears once again that humans are the cause of problems. So, this time no space monsters with a sophisticated hearing organ, like in “A Quiet Place “. Now there are some over-enthusiastic speleologists who can’t resist sticking their noses into something out of curiosity. In particular, a cave that they have discovered. Cries of joy are quickly replaced by cries of fear and hysterical whining, the moment they break through the cave wall. What these human moles didn’t realize was that they were about to release some prehistoric bat-like creatures into the world. Beings who, after years of living in the dark, only rely on their hearing so they can find another victim. Best advice? Be silent.

The biggest difference with “A Quiet Place” is the unveiling of the bloodthirsty, ruthless flying monsters. In “A Quiet Place” it took a while. In “The Silence” you don’t have to wait that long before you see the little monsters at work. Yet there are several similarities to be discovered. So, the word plagiarism is very quickly dangling off the tip of your tongue. Again, it’s about a family with two children with daughter Ally (Kiernan Shipka) also having a hearing problem. Although not congenital but because of a terrible accident in which her grandparents also perish. Here too there are certain confounding factors among the family members that could put others life at risk. In “A Quiet Place” it was a new-born baby whose crying was a lure for the terrible creatures. Here it’s Grandmother Lynn (Kate Trotter) with an annoying cough and the dog Otis who barks all the time. And just like in “Bird Box” there is a safe haven where everyone is heading for.

“The silence” clearly has similarities with a whole bunch of other movies. The disadvantage is that you have an early feeling of haven’t-we-seen-this-already-before. Even though it is all a bit more action-packed and at certain moments more exciting. On the other hand, it’s true that not showing the imminent danger immediately (such as in “A Quiet Place “) ensures that you’ll be waiting with bated breath for that revelation. The biggest difference lies in the religious aspect that’s incorporated in the story. The Apocalypse breaks out and before you know it there’s some ingenious person who immediately starts a cult.

As with any religion, this self-proclaimed religious leader also introduces a dogma that makes it impossible to jeopardize the cult through unexpected, loud noises. The dogma involves a radical intervention on the followers. It is hoped that none of them will get stomach flu, with noisy flatulence as a result. Or that one of the short-sighted followers is a bit too obese, which makes that moving around is quite noisy. Away tactical advantage, I would say. In short, another proof that religion cannot be associated with logical reasoning. On the other hand, they were interested in the fertility of the young girl. Well, that says a lot.

And unfortunately, the film is full of such pathetic ridiculous things. Actually, it was already stupid of them to ride off in a noisy car. And of course, they flee, even though the authorities advised to stay indoors. And wasn’t there anyone smart enough to simply keep the woodchipper running constantly? Maybe an annoying, maddening noise. But anything’s better than being eaten by naked, bat-like flying dinosaurs. With united forces, they could easily have destroyed the colony of animals in one fell swoop. Or were there really so many of these creatures? And nobody here who thinks to throw an object to mislead these bastards. Nope. They do things the hard way and start waving around with a mop.

Fortunately, the acting performances weren’t of a lousy low level. It’s always a pleasure to see Stanley Tucci at work. Although I thought his personage was more interesting in “Patient Zero“. Unfortunately, that movie wasn’t very good. Apparently, there’s also a lot of criticism from the deaf community about the non-deaf Kiernan Shipka playing the role of Ally. According to them, it’s impossible for her to understand what it feels like to be deaf and also that her sign language wasn’t flawless. Could be. But I don’t agree with regard to empathizing with her character. Couldn’t a talented actress or actor empathize to such an extent that it comes across as convincing? I assume that Denzel Washington and Nicolas Cage don’t have a drinking problem. And yet their interpretations as an alcoholic in “Flight” and “Leaving Las Vegas” were damn realistic enough for me. And I am able to objectively assess that, believe me. And finally, admiration for Kyle Breitkopf as the younger brother Jude.

All in all, this film is the weakest one from the “Netflix Originals” stable. As a horror, it’s a total failure. It’s never really scary or exciting. The tension is removed by portraying the scary animals very early in the film. This type of film involves more than just portraying a lot of hysterically screaming people (which in turn has bad consequences for them). No, there are certainly better alternatives to view. And if you don’t know which one, I mean, I recommend a reread.

 

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

 

Terminator - Dark Fate Review

Director: Tim Miller
Screenwriters: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Stars: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes

I have to admit my hopes were not high for this sequel-come-reboot. Though I quite liked T3, I thought Genisys was a mess and Salvation was irredeemably awful. I obviously wasn’t the only one with this opinion. Dark Fate serves as a direct sequel to T2, presumably in the hope the others will be wiped from the timeline.

The film starts off by introducing us to Dani (Natalia Reyes) and her normal, humdrum life. This is the Latino girl we saw in the trailer and assumed was a kid. She’s actually not a kid, she’s just a very short woman. Anyway, as per usual, a terminator and a protector arrive in a big whirly ball of electricity and we soon realise this ordinary girl isn’t going to be so ordinary in the future.

A lot of people are comparing this to The Force Awakens; saying it’s just a new spin on the old formula, and this is true, but it’s also what made the first two (and arguably the third) Terminator movies work. The CG mess that was Salvation attempted to do something new in the wake of Judgement Day, and Genysis just tied everyone’s head in knots with too many time travel paradoxes, so I’m not against them going back to the original template.

Series creator James Cameron gets a story credit but not a screenplay credit, so it seems he was involved in the early stages and then left the directing to Deadpool’s Tim Miller while he went back to work on his 20 Avatar sequels. It would’ve been great to have Cameron back in the director’s chair, but Miller is as good a stand-in as we could’ve hoped for. He handles the action like a seasoned pro and though the film is light on humour, the few moments of levity we get are well judged and funny.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t perfect; there are a couple of things about it that did niggle me. The opening flashback scene with Linda Hamilton de-aged does not look good and I don’t understand why. Doesn’t everyone use the same de-ageing software? Why do Marvel’s de-aged characters look so good and yet Sarah Connor looks like a PS4 character? The other niggle concerns the military assistance they receive at the beginning of the third act. Sarah says at one point that she is wanted in all 50 states and had a whole episode of America’s Most Wanted dedicated to her, and yet when she calls an old army buddy he not only gives her Top Secret tech weapons, but also access to an army base and lets her take a very large plane! This is never explained and seems like a plot contrivance just to get them into a plane. It’s a shame because one very minor tweak could’ve made it a lot more believable. The army guy who helps them is an African-American with the name-patch HUNT on his fatigues. What if that patch had read DYSON instead? Little Danny Dyson all grown up? Just sayin’.

As someone who went in fully expecting to hate it, I’m glad those two points are really all I have to complain about. I enjoyed this film a lot. Mackenzie Davis delivers the sort of fast, well-choreographed action and violence we expect and hope for from this franchise. Granted, some of it still is CG, but we can’t have everything. Arnie arrives quite late, but he’s a welcome addition to the group when he does and his strained relationship with Sarah keeps things tense.

It’s unfortunate that Dani doesn’t get the story-arc Sarah had in the first film. Where Sarah was an apologetic waitress who wouldn’t confront a guy who cancels minutes before their date, but ends up fighting and destroying a T-800, Dani spends most of the time being protected and letting others do the fighting for her. She does fire a few shots and have a bit of a shout near the end, but it’s not the gradual transformation that would make her believable. It feels a bit like they’re saving that stuff up for the sequel which is always a mistake.

Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9 plays it completely emotionless, except when he’s mimicking someone, and while we can all understand why the actor would make this choice, it does give him all the personality of a toaster. The T-1000 didn’t say much either but he had an intense stare that told us what lay beneath the poly-mimetic alloy was something you should be scared of.

The storyline is basically a reset, so depending on how this one does at the box-office, we may be getting more films with Dani being chased by increasingly upgraded terminators. Unlike Arnie, I don’t think the producers will be asking Gabriel Luna to reprise his role if there are future sequels. He does what the script asks of him but it’s not the sort of iconic performance that would make fans salivate for his return.

Dark Fate has all the ingredients you’d expect from a Termintor movie, and thankfully the action and violence don’t hold back just so the movie can reach a lower age demographic. While it may not be on a par with T1 and T2, I think it’s at least as good as T3 – and remember I liked T3 – and much better than Salvation or Genysis.

In the Shadow of the Moon (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

In The Shadow Of The Moon

Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Gregory Weidman, Geoffrey Tock
Stars: Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman, Bokeem Woodbine

If you kill me now…
the world as you know it will end
in a very short time.

Yeah. Once again a movie about time traveling. Always interesting to see how they incorporated the paradox of time travel. And there’s always going to be someone who claims something isn’t right. Not that I really care about that because I still don’t know anyone who has actually traveled through time to provide proof whether changes in the past may or may not affect the future. Perhaps that would provide proof of whether the grandfather paradox is plausible or not. So, for me, it’s still pure Sci-Fi. And that results in enjoyable films such as “About Time“, “I’ll follow you down” or “Predestination” And this Netflix Original certainly wasn’t that bad either.

This film differs enormously from one like “Predestination“. And this in terms of simplicity. It’s not all that complicated. Don’t expect such an immense “mindfuck” as in the latter. You don’t need an immense manual or walk-through here. And furthermore, it’s a pleasant mixture of detective-movie and Sci-Fi. The tracing of a serial killer (active in Philadelphia) by the ambitious police officer Locke (Boyd Holbrook) is the common thread throughout the film.

The apparently randomly selected innocent victims, die a terrible death in which decomposing brains are the cause of the sudden death. Locke discovers that all the victims have scars in the neck area. Soon it’s said that an isotope is the cause of them ending up dead in a rapidly spreading blood pool. And when a fourth victim manages to give an accurate description of the person, a massive search is being conducted. Locke ends up face to face with a young, coloured teenager (with a thorough knowledge of combat techniques) in a blue jogging suit (Cleopatra Coleman). The biggest shock for Locke is that she knows a lot of facts about Locke. Facts she couldn’t have known. And before you know it, it’s 9 years later.

The film is divided into time periods of 9 years. Starting in the year 1988. The year that the first murders happen. It’s actually the most action-rich part. And also the most realistic. The way in which a cook, concert pianist and female bus driver meet their end, has been portrayed enormously realistic. Don’t expect an ordinary cause of death. It’s pretty bloody. And in the case of the bus driver, quite spectacular. But when the phenomenon of the returning teenager reveals itself and you finally begin to understand what’s going on, realism slowly but surely fades away and gives way to pure fiction. And gradually you realise that this isn’t a typical detective film, with inspectors (like in “Se7en“) chasing a crazy serial killer. No way. It gradually transforms into a thoughtful sci-fi and then ends in a corny drama about family issues.

To be honest, I thought the acting performance of Boyd Holbrook as the wayward Locke wasn’t bad at all. Perseverance and drivenness were exceptionally well portrayed. Because of his obsession to solve the mystery, he loses control of reality. It destroys his family relationships and interferes with his work. Gradually Locke turns into an unkempt tramp, without work and living in his car. Therefore, let me praise the make-up department of this production. And although Holbrook’s acting was outstanding, you can’t say he out-sings the rest of the cast. They weren’t bad, but you can’t speak of spectacular interpretations either. Only the action-rich fight scenes with Cleopatra Coleman as an unleashed fury pleased me as well.

No, “In the shadow of the Moon” certainly wasn’t a disastrous film. Although the story was essentially not too original. And you get that feeling that you’ve seen it all before. Probably because of that, the denouement wasn’t really surprising. Perhaps the opening scene was too revealing as well. The question of whether you can avoid disaster by drastically changing something in the past is and remains fascinating. I bet that the event they tried to undo, will be the subject of discussion once again. Just look at the politically charged opinions on other websites. Even the word “propaganda” is used all too often. The patronising tone and the explanatory nature of the film was no obstacle for me to enjoy this film. Don’t expect a groundbreaking movie. But it surely was entertaining enough. So, it’s definitely well worth a watch, this Netflix Original.

Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review By Justin Aylward

 

Ad Astra Review

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

The outer reaches of space are a dark expanse wherein we know nothing but distant stars and ice cold planets. Anything could be out there: artificial life, water, asteroids. But what James Gray looks for in his new film Ad Astra is the resolution for a quandary as old as dramatic theatre itself. Is the son destined to be like the father?
The levels of transcendence beyond the mundanity of the everyday are not unfamiliar territory for Gray, whose last film The Lost City of Z was one of the best films of 2016. In this new production he takes his story outside the stratosphere and into the planetary regions of Jupiter and Neptune.

Brad Pitt – his hair refreshed from the wind-swept days of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – plays Roy McBride, a steely and respected astronaut whose doughy face belies deep-rooted turmoil. His heartrate never raises above eighty, they say. The man is a legend, but not quite on the level of his father, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). McBride, many years previously was the captain of the Lima Project, a massive venture to the cosmos in search of extra-terrestrial life. He was the first man to reach Jupiter and Saturn. But sixteen years into the mission he and his crew vanished without a trace. Now, back on Earth, a series of Surges – atmospheric tornados – believed to be bolstered by the antimatter used to power the Lima Project, are causing havoc and threaten to destroy all life in the known universe. Is this the last trace of McBride and his lost crew?

In steps the younger McBride, tasked with going in search of his father on a covert mission to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. In a series of introspective longueurs padded out by slow-moving action sequences, McBride moves through space on a Conradian journey into the travails of his own mind as much as the dark recesses of space.

What could have been a measured drama playing the dangers of space travel with the urgency of broken family connections, quickly becomes flimsy, over-indulgent, and self-important. An early chase sequence on the Moon is so slow and guileless as to be nearly laughable. Gray’s direction is quite ham-handed so that when one particular character is killed, the audience does not know find out who until a few minutes later. There are other flaws with the direction the film takes, as many characters come and go, some appearing for no more than a minute or two with no great significance.

The film’s release was delayed by a few months, leading to rumours of studio meddling. Perhaps this accounts for the uneven use of Pitt’s breathy narration, reminiscent of Harrison Ford in the theatrical cut of Blade Runner. The voiceover does work in parts and allows the viewer into the centre of Pitt’s thoughts and feelings when there are no other indicators to go by, but for much of the film’s running time the performance by Pitt on-screen and the somber tones of the narration are at odds. At times, Pitt seems to be lost on screen, scrambling for an emotion or a gesture to work with but with no help from the screenplay. I can imagine a prompt phonecall from an executive after seeing the first cut and insisting the film is too abstract and a voiceover should be added to clear up the narrative. But it doesn’t work and only lulls the viewer deeper into the film’s pretensions.

There is one montage sequence as Pitt courses through space where we see him alone, as isolated in space as he was on earth. This is the one strength of the film as we feel of sense of weight and timelessness float by. Gray measures out this part of the film with thought and skill. But just as I got involved in the film, the monotony returns. Pitt muses over his ex-lover played by Liv Tyler – although if you blink at the wrong times, you will miss her – and this is another aspect of the story that seems to be tacked on. Also, his confusion and regret about his relationship with his father provides nothing new for a thread so widely spun in other films and dramas. And when they finally collide the denouement is so clumsy and uninspiring it resembles a messy run-in from an old wrestling show.

Ad Astra is a film with lofty aspirations, but with soul and spectacle too unevenly intertwined, it succeeds in neither widening the eyes of the audience or engaging the brain either.