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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.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019) Movie Review By The Moviie Couple

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood Review

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie

Moviie Couple here!   We went to see Once Upon A Time in Hollywood this Saturday!!  Remember we are just a married couple that loves movies!  We’re here to tell you if we liked it.  Film experts we are not!  Just a quick reminder of our rating system. Mrs. Moviie Couple and I, rate films on whether they are worth the cash spent on a night out.  we use a 1-6 Dollar Bill system.  1-2 Bills equal a waste of both our time and money!  3-4 Bills equal Meh to Pretty Good, money well spent!  5-6 Bills equal Wow!  Well worth the price of dinner, movie and sitter! Please take our money again!

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is being billed as the ninth film directed by Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino also serves as writer. It stars Leonard DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a star of 50’s television and his longtime friend and stunt double.  The film follows their lives as they are set on a collision course with the deadly night of the Sharon Tate murders committed by the Charles Manson “family” on August 9, 1969.  Sharon Tate is played by Margot Robbie.  Much in the spirit of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, this story is a Tarantino “alternate history” film.

So it’s not a true Crime or a Bio-Pic movie, history in these types of films will not play out as expected.  You get a cast of many famous co stars, such as Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, and many more.  Most fans of Tarantino films know what to expect from his stable of films, fast cars, a great soundtrack, loads of sharp dialogue and brutal violence.  So does this deliver?  Is Quentin on the top of his game?  Has the Maestro missed a step?  Let’s crank up the jukebox, put the top down, floor the gas pedal and find out!

So here we go!

Mr. Moviie Couple:  I have seen all of Quentin Tarantino’s films, some I absolutely love and others I find to be a mixed bag.  With Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (from this point on referred to as OUTH) I didn’t know which one I was going to get. The cast seemed top drawer, I mean you can’t get better, am I right?  The trailers seemed intriguing but left me wondering just what the movie was about.  I am somewhat unhappy to tell you that after sitting through nearly three hours of this film, I’m still not sure if that question has been answered. QT brings all the familiar elements from his films here as well,  great performances, exceptional musical selections,  realistic dialogue and at least one action packed finale, but the film still seems to have no rhyme or reason to it.

Leonardo DiCaprio, gives a fantastic performance as aging cowboy star Rick Dalton.  His portrayal of an actor dealing with the point in his life where he sees the sun setting on his career, is nothing short of perfection.  In the scene shown in most trailers where a young child actor whispers to him that his scene work was the best acting she has ever witnessed in her whole life, sums up what we are all watching. Leo absolutely kills the role.

Brad Pitt is equally good albeit in a much more subdued role as the buddy stunt double, Cliff Booth. His character is a war hero with a dubious background.  He is everything in real life that Rick plays in make believe, but in real life those dangerous, heroic characteristics often times come from a dark place. Cliff’s backstory is only told in snippets throughout the film, with little to no confirmation or details, and the audience is left to fill in many of the blanks. Pitt’s Cliff is a man with many issues and Pitt portrays him with an exceptional ease and a smile that hides whatever is dwelling just under Cliff’s surface. It is a performance equal to DiCaprio’s while at the same time being completely different.

Margot Robbie shines as Sharon Tate.  Her version of this 1960’s “It” girl seems to capture everything good about the tragic starlet. Unlike DiCaprio and Pitt, with who she barely shares any screen time with, Robbie had the challenge of playing the part of an actual person. Having seen films thatTate starred in, I can say I felt she captured the woman as well as anyone could.  At the same time, this was still a Robbie performance, but she seemed to capture the spark seen in Tate.  One scene in particular, of Tate watching her own movie when in a public theatre was excellent.  With no words, Robbie expresses the joy and nervous energy of someone hearing the public react to their craft in secret.  It was a fantastic and subtle scene.  Although her part didn’t have the same amount of lines as her male counterparts, Robbie was on par with them. She owned the screen any time she was on screen.

We have three outstanding performances, so what was missing for me?  Well let’s just say it was a long ride to get to one scene at the end that we all knew QT was heading to.  He took the scenic route.  At times this film reminded me of a QT Facebook adaptation if Facebook existed in 1969.  We see comments everyday demonstrating how mundane some Facebook entries can be. For example, “I took the dog for a walk today!”  “Going to the store for some shopping!”  “Choppin broccoli for dinner!”  Well at times, sometimes too many times, this movie seemed like we were watching an adaptation of what Cliff and Rick’s 1969 Facebook posts would have looked like if turned into a film by QT!  With the exception of a great scene where Cliff visits the “Manson Family” ranch unaware of the growing danger, but knowing something wasn’t right.  The hours of this film pass with little to know reason or suspense.  Other than the title, Once Upon a Time…., maybe being a clue and all QT wanted from this film was to take a Hollywood tragedy and give it a fairy tale ending we all wish had happened rather than the horrible reality the country all lived through, I can’t think of a theme or message this movie was trying to send me.

Man, just like the film itself, this review is dragging along!  It must be contagious!  So for the direction alone (QT really recaptures 1969 Hollywood down to every last little detail) and the actors all being on top of their games, OUTH is going to be getting 4 Bills from me!  Pretty Good, maybe you’ll like it, but be ready for nearly three hours of daily lives of a ‘69 actor and his buddy before the QT fireworks actually occur!  Sit back and enjoy three amazing actors doing what they do best until then!
Ms. Moviie Couple:  OK, Yes, it’s me again!  Hubby gets two weeks off from typing my review!

The acting from all three stars was out of this world!  Leo, Brad and Margot DO NOT disappoint! This movie is long, like WAY LONG!  And have I mentioned slow? For like the first one and a half hours it had me wondering what was going on, but be patient!  It’s worth the wait for the climax! The stories it was telling seemed very choppy to me. The plot didn’t flow smoothly for me. It went back and forth without any warning. I found it a bit hard to follow at times. You get a very in depth look into the lives of these specific main characters and what their day to day lives are like, but I felt it just wasn’t executed very well. Tarantino does eventually bring in the blood and guts!  Many of these were so graphic I found myself closing my eyes!  I prefer something be left to the imagination.

To be fair, this movie just isn’t my cup of tea,but I did enjoy the experience due to the cast members amazing performances!

I gave this movie 3 Bills!  The actors are phenomenal!  I would surely have rated it higher had it just been a bit more concise or just plain shorter.  But it’s hard to complain about spending three hours watching Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, that’s for sure.

On the way home, We talked about just how great all of the lead actors were.  I kept commenting about the song choices, 60-70’s tunes are some of my favourites!  We both spoke about how well filmed the movie was, but we kept comparing our interpretations of what was the main point of the story, what was it ultimately attempting to convey? We don’t spoil here, so let’s just say we both had different ideas about how to answer that question. Thanks to my 4 Bills and the Mrs. 3 Bills, Once Upon a Time …In Hollywood tallies up an average of 3.5 Bills!  So closer to Pretty Good than Meh.  Not QTs best, but far from his worst!

So until next time, remember Hollywood isn’t all it’s made to appear, everyone’s career has a setting sun waiting for them, didn’t I read somewhere QT is writing a Star Trek script?  Be sure to check out our Twitter or Facebook for a clue to our next movie review.

Mr. & Mrs. Moviie Couple out!

Fury (2014) Movie Retro Review by John Walsh

FURY

Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Stars: Brad Pitt,  Shia LaBeouf,  Logan Lerman

David Ayers Fury is actually one of the better war films involving tank warfare, but if you’re something of an anal World War II aficionado then it’s probably not the film for you regardless. Set in April 1945, at the tail end of said war, it follows the heroics of a Sherman tank crew as they make their way into Germany to bring about an end to the conflict at last. The German soldiers, by this point deeply entrenched, well up for a prolonged fight and steadfastly hanging onto their fanaticism, even despite their growing misfortunes, have other ideas however.

Nope, there’s no renewed focus on the Battle of the Bulge in the densely forested Ardennes or any real historical battles for that matter. The former is already long gone when Fury hits our screen. The Germans are already surrendering in their droves and in the absence of an actual real life depiction is the fictitious exploits of Sgt. Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier. Don is a battle hardened tank commander who has, against all the odds, managed to lead his crew from North Africa to Germany. That’s no mean feat in a conflict that was notoriously unkind to tanks, so you see he’s not a man to be trifled with. Of course, not everybody in his crew made it through in one piece and it’s at that junction that the film begins.

Ayer introduces the four veteran crew members in a striking opening scene, involving a positively regal looking German officer, riding a dashing white stallion. You’d be forgiven for thinking there was a brief time slip into an alternate reality as he surveys the aftermath of a unnamed battle. The reality of the German situation soon returns however when Collier pounces from his seemingly abandoned tank to brutally take the man down. The others, in the process of performing a quick mechanical repair throw insults around, giving an early hint that they’ve been together a while and seen some shit. Having clearly grown close and christened each other with nicknames, they include; Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LeBeouf); Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady ‘Coon-ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal).

There’s one man missing, the recently departed ‘Red’. An ironically perverse nickname, because all that remains of his presence within the cramped confines of the tank is a hideously, realistically, recreated piece of scalp (well done FX people) and copious amounts of blood. The others clearly still mourning his loss aren’t in any mood to deal with his nervous, boyish, replacement upon arriving back at their base camp and quickly task him with cleaning the gory mess. And believe me, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) doesn’t want to be there any more than they want him to be there. Plucked from a clerical position, he’s of the sensitive variety and not remotely up for the dangers of front line fighting.

This doesn’t sit at all well with Wardaddy, a man who’s earned his crews respect for being a strangely conflicted, disciplinarian, father figure. After asking the young chap if he’s “done much killing?”, he decides tough love is the best way to, well, toughen him up. How does he do this? By slapping him around a little and forcing a gun into his hand, before firing it in the direction of a German prisoner. The development of Norman was a little stereotypical, corny and crudely executed for me. Ayer laid on the sensitivity of the character a little too thickly, which having him play piano in a young German woman’s house (actually one of my favourite scenes incidentally, purely for the interesting dynamic that plays out between the crew) to further highlight, perfectly summed up.

It’s an action film at heart though, and in its defence, doesn’t really require any complicated, fleshed out personalities or even complex thematics to be any good. It just needs something resembling a plot, eye catching visuals and a decent cast. It has at least two of those. I’m actually still not sure what the story was about, out with Norman’s personal journey and blowing shit up? Visually, it really is quite something though. From the sets, period costume designs, all the way to the tank/s themselves. It certainly feels like World War II and the gore was ratcheted up to stomach churning levels. Heads and limbs are blown off, and bodies are crushed under the tracks of the tank. That showdown between the Tiger and the Sherman’s was certainly enjoyable too and they did a very decent job of filming inside the tight interior of the tank.

It does have a very decent cast too, there can be no complaints there. Brad Pitt is pretty damn good in his role as Wardaddy. Yes, it has shades of Aldo Raine, but he plays the battle hardened role so well and Collier alongside Norman is perhaps the only character I felt any emotional connection with (even then it was minute). Logan Lerman is the standout here however. His character has by far the most the development (even if it isn’t amazingly executed) and depth. He puts in a believable and excellent performance as young man living the horrors of war. Out of the other three main protagonists Shia LeBeouf edges it, well he more than edges to be fair, as Bible. I don’t particularly like the guy off screen, but he’s practically unrecognisable in this role and I can’t fault him. Bernthal and Peña were fine without excelling.

In fairness though, I can’t be too overly critical of any of their performances, because in all honesty, they worked wonders with fairly two dimensional characters that, like I said, besides Don and Norman lacked any depth or personality. And that right there is the main gripe I have with this film. The story is unmemorable and slightly rubbish. It basically follows the crew as they go from one generic skirmish to another with the odd recuperation between. The final stand that pitted the five against a SS platoon was a head scratcher, telegraphed and came across as a weird rip-off of Saving Private Ryan. Unlike that film, I was never truly invested in any of the main characters and so had no emotional investment in their inevitable deaths. Ayer (spoiler alert) killed them off one by one and I genuinely didn’t care, which shouldn’t be the case.

Having said that now, would I recommend this film? Hmm… it’s a tough one. It’s still a decent action flick and as long as you go in with zero expectation of anything more then some enjoyment could still be taken. So depending on who you are, yes and no.

Allied (2016) Movie Review by John Walsh

ALLIED.png

Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: Steven Knight
Stars: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris

Allied is a blatant attempt at recapturing the spirit of the classic Humphrey Bogart style romantic war films that you’d be accustomed to watching on TCM in the middle of the afternoon. The type my grandfather seemed to have on permanently whenever I walked in. A romantic drama that features very little drama and painfully forced romance. I’ve honestly not seen romance done this bad since Attack of the Clones. It’s not for the want of trying, with Pitt and Cotillard performing fairly well, but you just can’t fake chemistry when it isn’t there.

Beginning in 1942 within Nazi occupied Casablanca. The opening shot reveals Canadian paratrooper Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) parachuting into the sandy dunes of French Morocco’s desert tundra. A car soon appears to whisk him into the city, with the driver telling Max that his ‘wife’ is in the blue dress. Cut to the streets of Casablanca and there’s Camels, lots of Camels. Max, wearing an immaculate suit, walks into the club and after a brief glance around, soon spots Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard), the cigarette smoking, resistance infiltrator disguised as his wife. She’s apparently created quite the cover story, rather bizarrely telling her friends that Canadian born Max is a mining engineer and native Parisian. Cue the inevitable awkwardness that follows with a terrible sounding French accent. Thankfully our main protagonist quickly sees sense and makes a sharp exit. Truth be told, it’s a rather odd beginning to an even odder film. American born Pitt, playing a Canadian soldier working for the British, whilst putting on a false French accent is just too much for my brain to process.

A short car ride and narrow miss for another camel later; our leading pair arrive at their temporary digs for the next ten days. They’re here to assassinate the German ambassador who is hosting a lavish party. In the days leading up to the party, we see the pair go about their daily business as fake husband and wife. The whole shenanigans resembling one of my all-time favourite X-Files episodes: Arcadia. At least Mulder and Scully had bucket loads of on screen chemistry, which is more than can be said for Max and Marianne. It has to be said that the pacing in this opening 45 minutes is choppy at best. There’s a cool cafe scene, that features Max taking out a German officer, walking back to his table for a final sip of his coffee, before strolling away with a degree of nonchalance that would make James Bond proud. Some unnecessary chatter scenes between the leading two that feel like a half hearted attempt at developing the relationship and failing to do so. A short cameo from August Diehl, whose character could have been lifted straight from Inglorious Basterds, such is the glaring similarities between the two. And finally, on the eve of the operation, a completely bizarre sex scene in a car during a particularly vicious looking sand storm, with some rotating camera shots that are still leaving me scratching my head in bemusement just now.

When the party finally arrives, the scene is over so quickly that you’d be forgiven for thinking just why hell they wasted the best part of an hour in setting it up. The choreography was lacklustre and it completely lacked any sort of suspense whatsoever. Both make it out after slaughtering all but one woman, lord knows why they spared her? The film never does explain it. Then completely out of the blue, Max blurts out “Come with me to London and be my wife”. And here was me giving them a bye because their relationship was supposed to be fake. Oops.

The film then jumps forward a couple of weeks with Max in England and a short scene plays out with his commanding officer telling him “Marriages made in the field never work”. On reflection, perhaps he should have listened to him. We then see another jump in time with Marianne giving birth outside, during the middle of an air raid in London. Now, if you’ll excuse my ignorance please. I know health and safety wasn’t up to the lofty standards of today back in the 1940s, but wouldn’t it be much safer delivering a baby inside the hospital? Like, even take them down to the basement if it’s absolutely necessary to move. But I digress. There’s yet another jump into the future. Perhaps unsurprisingly, with Robert Zemeckis directing. The couple are now living a fairly happy existence in wartime London. That is until Max gets notified by his commanding officer Frank Heslop (Jared Harris) to attend a top secret meeting with an overly cheeky intelligence chief (Simon McBurney). He’s rather bluntly told that Marianne is suspected of being a German spy, the real Marianne apparently having been killed and replaced back in 1941, and that they’ll be running a blue dye operation. If the suspicions are proven to be true then Max will have to kill his wife or face certain death himself on charges of high treason. Again, I’m no expert on spies and their punishments after being caught, but that surely can’t be how they dealt with these things just 74 years ago.

Visually, I can’t fault the film. Don Burgess does a more than decent job of recreating the period. There’s a few minor issues, such as regular pleb German soldiers running around with Nazi armbands, which is historically inaccurate. Overall though, the film looks fantastic and the costume designs are immaculate with Mr. Pitt in particular looking dapper throughout. And a quick mention must be made about the opening shot of Max walking across the top of a sand dune, which was absolutely beautiful looking. Musically, the film is nothing outstanding by any means. Alan Silvestri does an ok job. The first 45 minutes had a rather strange action score, that for me, would be more fitting within a modern setting, but in fairness as the film progresses, things improve substantially. With lots of fairly decent violin parts adding some hint of emotion to proceedings.

The final act of the film then follows Max’s frantic attempts over a three day period to find out the truth about his wife. He even goes as far as flying to France for one night, receiving help from the resistance to break into a jail and speak with the only man alive that can verify the appearance of the real Marianne Beuséjour. Expecting a twist at the end, I was disappointed with the predictable nature of the last 15-20 minutes and was left with a sense of emptiness as the credits rolled. I can’t honestly recommend this extremely disappointing film to anyone.