Review: ‘Ad Astra’ sees Brad Pitt explore the cosmos, and his emotions

This review was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

To strap into the vessel through which writer-director James Gray chooses to explore the cosmos in the meditative “Ad Astra” is to understand the emotional turmoil endured by the astronaut we’re accompanying, Brad Pitt’s Roy McBride.

Despite its opening notes and frames being injected with a just sense of grandiosity that we’ve come to expect from modern space movies, Gray’s latest film is just as much an introspective journey as it is an intersteller one. The premise is straightforward – astronaut must travel through space and communicate with his long-thought-dead father, who may have a role in ongoing Earthly catastrophic phenomena – but this space odyssey is contemplation and adventure in equal measure, guided by one of the year’s most effectively somber performances and a startling level of self-awareness on Grey’s part about Hollywood’s historical teachings on the isolation of intergalactic exploration.

The “Lost City of Z” and “We Own the Night” director also offers up a counter-argument to our perhaps-overzealous ambitions of reaching the stars as a pinnacle of human achievement, one we should have been considering all this time: Why should we expect humanity’s problems to be bound to Earth? Continue reading →

In appreciation: ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ 10 years later

“Quite frankly, watching Donny beat Nazis to death is the closest thing we ever get to going to the movies.”

Brad Pitt’s Lt. Aldo Raine, the Tennessean harbinger of death and caustic quips in “Inglourious Basterds” – Quentin Tarantino’s best movie, and released 10 years ago this month – says that line in passing to a swastika-bearing Hitler footsoldier in the backwoods of France before the Bear Jew comes out, bat in hand, and, as advertised, proceeds to beat a Nazi to death.

The Basterds hoop and the Basterds holler like they’re at a movie where hooping and hollering goes unpunished, and so do we. It’s an explosion of catharsis, a bloody denouement to the suspense built on the words of Tarantino’s epic screenplay. The writer-director allows us to breath a guilty sigh of relief—the standoff has ended. And it ends for the better; the other Nazis in their capture don’t want their heads bashed off by an exuberant Eli Roth channeling his inner “Teddy Fuckin’ Ballgame” and wielding his bat with the might of an entire people behind it, and immediately provide the information Aldo was searching for. Continue reading →

Review: In ‘Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood,’ Tarantino contemplates and embraces his version of an era

There’s a shot early in “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” that will strike those fluent in the cinematic language of its writer-director, Quentin Tarantino, as something very anti-Quentin Tarantino.

The camera is closed in tight – real tight, as if ready to surprise – on a swatch of paint, and begins to move, gingerly, over what we eventually come to recognize as the illustrated face of Rick Dalton, Leonardo DiCaprio’s fictionalized drunken actor in 1969 Los Angeles. The face eventually comes to take up the entire frame, feeling larger than life, but we’re still not quite sure where we are—there’s no background chatter, no camera flashes. Just morning ambience.

It’s an uncharacteristically quiet moment to open a Tarantino film, like the auteur paying a more patient kind of homage to the cinema he’s built a career of borrowing from and remixing. As if he, and we, are observing it from a church pew.

Not too long after, the impression is shattered. Tarantino reveals the grand nature of that opening to be a fakeout—instead of a massive billboard overseeing Sunset Boulevard, the artwork is propped up on cinder blocks on the end of a driveway, like an artifact time has forgotten. It’s a plot-building surprise right up the alley of a director whose name itself evokes polarization and debate. “Once Upon a Time…” – an evocative, romantic, violent, metatextual, questionable reimagining of a time and place that is all of those things – will also be polarizing, and absolutely lead to debate. Continue reading →