To the Stars: An Ad Astra Review

Brad Pitt stars in Ad Astra, a story about human bonds that has cosmic proportions.

For a long time, the idea of humans living in space remained in the realm of fantasy. But as we tiptoe towards environmental collapse, a future of mankind in space seems more and more inevitable. 

This might explain why there has been an uptick in films that grapple with humanity in space and mankind’s quest to find a place in the cosmos. Some quintessential 21st-century “space movies” that come to mind are Wall-E (2009), Interstellar (2014), and The Martian (2015). 

And Ad Astra is another (lengthy) addition to this “space movie genre,” but instead of widening the scope to include all of humanity, it focuses on one individual.

Brad Pitt stars as Roy McBride, a cool, capable, yet emotionally repressed astronaut who narrates this story through an internal monologue. He is the son of a famed astronaut who disappeared during a mission that attempted to find intelligent life beyond Jupiter. Roy is tasked by SpaceComm to deal with “Surges,” violent earthquake-like events that cut off electronic power on Earth and other human-colonized planets. Roy’s employer believes that Roy’s father is still out in space causing these surges, and cautiously sends Roy on a classified mission to Jupiter in order to stop his father and bring him home. This journey forces Roy has to confront his complex, tumultuous relationship with his father, confront the personal rifts he has caused in his relationships, all the while dealing with the life-threatening ordeal of space travel. 

Visuals-wise, Ad Astra and it’s cinematographer (Hoyte van Hoytema, also DP of Interstellar) succeed in creating a distinctive look for the cosmos. Some of the most memorable visuals include those of Pitt saturated in oppressive reds and sea glass greens, along with the heart-racing opening sequence and the high-contrast space-pirate chase on the Moon.  

However, the writing is more of a mixed bag. 

The premise is interesting enough– but what bogs down the entire movie is the internal monologue and cliche dialogue. Brad Pitt’s internal monologue is hit or miss. At its best, it hits you with a painstaking clarity, such as when McBride describes his complicated relationship with his father. But at its worst, the writing can feel redundant and even condescending towards the audience, as emotional nuance is sacrificed for direct, straightforward monologues that weakly echo the well-acted shots of Brad Pitt experiencing that said emotion. Brad Pitt does what he can with the script however, and at moments you can forgive the redundancy. 

Pitt shines in Ad Astra as he recounts the multifaceted nature of his relationship with his father. Within two hours, we have moments of longing and the simple need for mutual understanding, begrudging respect and emulation, scorn and frustration, and a heartbreaking acceptance and letting go, with varying levels of fitting detachment from Brad Pitt. When the film touches on fatherhood and trauma, everything fits together with breathtaking clarity. 

But apart from this clarity, the rest of the relationships in this film feel murky. 

While the father-son relationship is fleshed out, I was left wondering why the writers couldn’t have done the same for Eve, Liv Tyler’s character and Roy McBride’s ex-wife. There are very few moments where they’re together, and it’s hard to believe by the end of the film Eve is ready to romantically reconnect with Roy, as such little attention has been paid to her. Due to this, the end of this film leaves something to be desired, as it feels very tacked-on and cookie-cutter. 

But I’m not going to let this bog down what I loved about Ad Astra. Ad Astra isn’t about extraterrestrials, exploring new planets, or a ragtag story of unlikely friends on a space ship. It is deeply human and relies on solitude, and what happens when this solitude is disturbed. When forces outside your control force you to question what you have known.

 Ad Astra isn’t a space movie. It is a familiar story of a father and his son, but instead of having it happen under an Earthen roof, it expands its scope and turns to the stars, “ad astra”.  

AD ASTRA (2019) 3/5

-Grace Lee (’21)

Justin Reviews: Coco

‘Coco’ is Pixar’s latest feature film, but does it live up to its critical acclaim? Read more to find out! (Spoiler-Free)

A mini-rant before I start. I’ve never understood why people tolerate low quality in films intended for children. Their rhetoric can be summarized with: “But it’s just a kid’s film!”. Hmmm, we put so much effort in creating a healthy, safe environment for children, but when it comes to entertainment it’s okay to put out bare-minimum, ‘passable’ movies? I don’t think so. Luckily, Coco is fascinating enough to wipe all those awful Disney sequels we saw as wee lads out of our memories.

Coco’s greatest strength comes from its simplicity and the introduction of high ‘stakes’. If this project had fallen into the wrong hands, it would have been a tensionless, corny story about a boy named Miguel and his love for music, culminating in an overblown cover of Ricky Martin’s Livin La Vida Loca. But Pixar succeeds where others fail by adding in a new aspect – the Mexican Land of the Dead. Once Miguel ends up here, things start to get interesting. Miguel has 24 hours to return to the real world, or else fade from existence – but also to find out the secret behind his ancestry. If he gets caught by the countless security guards, he’s toast. If he gets caught by his dead relatives, who believe music is a curse, he’s toast as well. Again, easy-to-understand high stakes – that’s the backbone for Coco’s brilliance.

Aesthetically, Coco also triumphs most movies. Pixar did their research correctly, spending months in Mexico, wondering how to elevate a culture that’s foreign to them. The results are stunning. The streets of Mexico are not portrayed as colorless, crumbling slums, but rather individually unique houses that are scattered amongst displays of Mexican clothing, music, food, traditional art, and most of all – the bright orange leaves placed on every path for ‘Dia de Los Muertos’, providing navigation for spirits in search of their former homes. The Land of the Dead which Miguel explores is equally beautiful. It reminded me of a Miyazaki film, in that the spirit world and the real world are able to exist in harmony, with macabre and human aspects combined, reflected in the colorful buildings and creatures inhabiting a world that is, ironically, refreshingly alive.

 

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Similar to Lunar New Year, Mexicans honor their ancestors on Dia de Los Muertos.

 

But what surprised me the most is how much momentum this film had left, even after Miguel’s family secrets are revealed. He even proves himself as a musician, performing for hundreds of the dead. You’d think that these two moments the premise promises would be a suitable conclusion, but there are many twists after that point. They’re executed so well that even if you have a vague idea of what they might be, they still land like a hammer to the head. My favorite twist? When the audience learns why the movie is titled Coco – and not Miguel – tying several themes (death, family, childhood innocence) together perfectly.

Now back to my opening rant. I love Pixar because they don’t pander to a certain demographic or the lowest common denominator. Case in point: Coco is one of the most anti-kid kid films I have ever seen. What kind of animation studio builds their movie around grievance and death? Yet Pixar pulls off this incredible feat by sticking to a tried-and-true formula: a simple story and complex details. Shame on the parents who chose Ferdinand (starring John Cena… as a bull?) instead. 

Good movies can make a 6-year old laugh and a 60-year old cry. Coco is one of them.

Featured Image 

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Movie Review: It

The recent adaptation of Stephen King’s horror novel, “It”, has released in theaters and once again reminded us of the fear of clowns.

As one of the most anticipated movie this year, “It”, has released in theaters worldwide and once again reminded us the long lost childhood fear–clowns. Despite its success from the original film in 1990 with its iconic symbol of clowns, the new movie has been able to overcome the the overall anticipation, delivering a different perspective of the novel.

As I am no horror movie fan, I knew nothing about Stephen King’s novels nor novel based movies which makes it more interesting for a horror movie watcher newbie. Through the whole 135 minutes, the movie put me on the edge of the seat.

As you may have already seen in the trailers, the movie starts with the main protagonist (Bill)’s brother floating down a paper boat and meeting the clown, Pennywise. Bill and his friends from ‘Loser’s Club’ try to defeat Pennywise as it eats feared children in every 27 years. But what makes this movie so different from other Stephen King movie is its 1980 retro vibe with simple and funny teen melodrama moments. With the movie involving a love triangle between the adolescent characters, the combination of melo comedy and eeriness makes the movie more unique.

Another factor that made Pennywise horrifying for all was its visuals. The CGI for Pennywise’s transformation to other creatures with its tooth looked incredible, making the original clown from the 1990’s look silly. Starting from the first scene, when Pennywise eats Georgie, Bill’s brother, its blood and it’s teeth has turned all audience’s horrified. The CGI for Georgie’s lost arm had the audience’s stomach churning as Pennywise’s eyes gave them a chill creeping from the back. Overall, I thought that the visuals and CGI for Pennywise intensified its thrill of the audience.

My favorite aspect of the movie was how the movie was able to scare the audience only by its slowly creeping horror. Although there were a few jump scares, the slow appearance of Pennywise and its uncanny movements made the movie disturbing yet appealing as a horror film. Many reviews overall highly praised its plot and the director’s scene choices, but what I thought needed to be highly praised was Pennywise’s symbol. (Spoiler Alert) Pennywise represented each character’s biggest fear, making it indestructible against each individual. The movie’s main theme was the strength of teamwork and synergy which help characters overcome any fear. Although, this may be a cliche theme, it was unique to see a deep theme in a horror movie. Unlike the other horror movies that puts people to jump every 10 minutes, “It” put people to tightly hold onto each other on the edge of the seat for the whole 135 minutes.

Although, I praise every actor’s eye catching performance, many of the protagonists looked like elementary kids instead of high schoolers. I could understand why the director chose younger actors as he wanted to represent innocence against fear. But when they fought with bullies twice their size, it seemed like child abuse rather than bullying. Although, this is only my personal viewpoint of the actors, I thought that many would agree that the main characters looked too young.

Talking about the disappointments of the movie, I would say that the director overly focused on the children’s fears into Pennywise. Pennywise appeared too much in the movie as towards the end, the horrifying appearance of Pennywise faded. Furthermore, the movie couldn’t capture the indifference of adults, questioning why are adults ignorant about these missing kids. Although the movie couldn’t fit all aspects from the novel, it still was able to deliver the thrills.

As the movie was based off of the novel by the king of horror books,, it terrorized people with clowns and haunted them with their childhood fear. Although, the movie couldn’t show all the aspects from the book, it was able to have all the audience tensed and at the edge of their seat. The dialogue and its subplots further added a retro vibe, differentiating the movie from other horror movies. Already, the upcoming release of the sequel with the protagonists all grown has begun to excite people.

In case you didn’t watch it, here’s the trailer:

Featured Image: Observer.com

-Mark Park (’20)

Doctor Strange Review (Extreme Spoiler Alert!!!)

Re-live the hype from the newest Marvel Studios film Doctor Strange! MAJOR spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned.

The latest movie to join the long line of Marvel Studios’ Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch (AKA Sherlock Holmes, AKA Khan, AKA Smaug, etc) as the renowned surgeon Stephen Strange. Director Scott Derrickson has done an extraordinary job bringing the beloved Doctor Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme himself, to life from the pages of Marvel comic books.

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PC: Marvel studios

After playing extremely serious and intense characters like Sherlock Holmes, it was a welcome change to watch Benedict Cumberbatch enter the Marvel Cinematic Universe as the arrogant and, quite often, rude Stephen Strange. In order to mend himself after his hands were damaged in a horrific car accident, Doctor Strange seeks the rumoured land of Kamar-Taj.

Despite Strange’s skepticism and arrogance, he progresses extremely quickly as a sorcerer, encountering the mystical Cloak of Levitation, which, let’s face it, had quite an attitude for a floating piece of cloth. The fact that so much character was given to a normally inanimate object provided a twist to Doctor Strange’s atmosphere, integrating some much-appreciated comedy and chemistry between the cloak and Doctor Strange throughout the second half of the film. (By the way, Benedict Cumberbatch just completely nails the look of Doctor Strange.)

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PC: Marvel Studios

The Astral (“soul) Dimension, the Mirror Dimension, the Dark Dimension; Guardians of the Galaxy may have brought the cosmos to the big screen, but Doctor Strange really brings a whole lot of mysticism to the table. This allows the film to present itself as a distant cousin to the other Marvel Studios films we’ve had so far.

However, by far the most interesting aspect of Doctor Strange was the concept of bending space and time, especially during Cumberbatch’s showdown with Dormammu, a supposedly infinitely powerful being from the Dark Dimension. In an unexpected turn of events, Strange uses an artifact called the Eye of Agamotto to create an infinite time loop within the Dark Dimension, starting with Strange meeting Dormammu and ending with Strange’s death every time. It was painful to watch Cumberbatch die over and over again, in so many different, gruesome ways that only the video game Mortal Kombat’s fatalities can seem to match.

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PC: Marvel Studios

The flow of Doctor Strange seemed a tad bit rushed in the beginning, with Stephen Strange seemingly mastering the elementary and intermediate skills as a sorcerer and already learning to control time by nearly the 70-minute mark of the film. Furthermore, Stephen Strange may be the most arrogant character we’ve seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet. Nevertheless, as we saw in the film’s first mid-credits scene, Doctor Strange most definitely will become a hero and join up with the Avengers sooner than we might think, starting with helping Thor look for Loki in Thor: Ragnarok.

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PC: Marvel Studios

Rather than another long, drawn-out fight between heroes and robots, Marvel Studios decided to spice things up a bit and bring us this intriguing and exciting new film Doctor Strange. Stephen Strange’s pure intellect but desire to help brought us back to the days when the first Iron Man movie was released, making the two moustached geniuses seem like long-lost twins.

With Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 coming up next, Marvel Studios has quite some hype to live up to. Let’s hope they deliver in 2017 as they did this year with Doctor Strange!

Dormammu, I’ve come to bargain.

– Daniel Park (‘17)

Featured Image: Marvel Studios

Inside Out: A Movie Worth Your Tears

Meet all your emotions come to life on the big screen.

(Disney X Pixar)
(Disney X Pixar)

The current motion picture industry is suffering from an unquestionable scarceness of originality. Sure, it may encompass a variety of genres, fulfill the spectator’s tastes, and guarantee an unwavering audience. Yet a movie that exhibited the director’s flair for creativity has not been presented for a long time; the lack of uniqueness is clearly present in the cinema as can be seen from the bland, repetitive plotlines and characters. Pixar has managed to overturn this bleak recurrence in the movie theatres with its latest production – Inside Out. Satisfying audiences ranging from young toddlers to adults, this innovative movie offers entertainment to children and conveys intense and touching emotions of childhood memories to adults.

The plot of the movie revolves around the life of a 12 year old girl named Riley, but mainly revolves around the five emotions that supervise Riley’s daily life — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The emotions, along with the so-called memory balls that contain Riley’s memories and are stored at the brain’s headquarters, shape the thoughts, memories, and future actions of Riley. From preventing Riley from eating disgustingly green broccoli to bursting to tears after losing a hockey game, the emotions, as characters, have a say in Riley’s every move. Joy, however, predominantly leads the other emotions to make the best decisions for Riley.

The conflict begins when Joy’s leadership, which has previously been perfectly on point, begins to slip when Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley’s utter confusion in a completely new environment overwhelms her, hence putting her emotions in chaos and keeping them alert on full time with the problematic assignment of keeping Riley the cheerful Riley she has always been. (In other words, Joy is occupied full time while Sadness is wallowing over the fact that she cannot do anything to help.)

(Disney X Pixar)
(Disney X Pixar)

On top of Joy’s overflowing list of things to do, Sadness accidentally tampers with one of Riley’s core memories — which refer to the memory balls that characterise Riley for who she is — and modifies her gleeful, carefree emotions contained in the memory ball, altering it to become a melancholy memory ball. This leads to a major quarrel between Joy and Sadness over the now seemingly permanently dispiriting memory.

When things seem like they can’t get any worse, Joy and Sadness are sucked into ‘long term memory’, a maze that stores millions of Riley’s memory balls. The headquarters falls into panic mode as Joy and Sadness are whisked away. The film further progresses as Joy and Sadness futilely attempt to find a way back to the brain’s headquarters and as the other emotions hopelessly strive to keep Riley content without Joy’s leadership.

The reckless journey they confront is filled to the brim with both childhood innocence and psychological and emotional complications. From the train of thought, presented in the movie as a literal train, to Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong who fades away from Riley’s coming of age, metaphorical elements are used throughout the movie to attract the wide variety of spectators. Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen finds the flawless balance between the elements of child psychology and the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story of Riley’s coming of age and swept away the movie industry with yet another blockbuster.

 

– Serim Jang (’16)

Movie Review: Inside Out

Satisfying audiences ranging from young toddlers to adults, this innovative movie offers entertainment to children and conveys intense and touching emotions of childhood memories to adults. A movie 100% worth your tears, no matter how old you are.

(Disney X Pixar)
(Disney Pixar)

The current motion picture industry is suffering from an unquestionable scarceness of originality. Sure, it may encompass a variety of genres, fulfill the spectator’s tastes, and guarantee an unwavering audience. Yet a movie that exhibited the director’s flair for creativity has not been presented for a long time; the lack of uniqueness is clearly present in the cinema as can be seen from the bland, repetitive plotlines and characters. Pixar has managed to overturn this bleak recurrence in the movie theatres with its latest production – Inside Out. Satisfying audiences ranging from young toddlers to adults, this innovative movie offers entertainment to children and conveys intense and touching emotions of childhood memories to adults.

The plot of the movie revolves around the life of a 12 year old girl named Riley, but mainly revolves around the five emotions that supervise Riley’s daily life — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The emotions, along with the so-called memory balls that contain Riley’s memories and are stored at the brain’s headquarters, shape the thoughts, memories, and future actions of Riley. From preventing Riley from eating disgustingly green broccoli to bursting to tears after losing a hockey game, the emotions, as characters, have a say in Riley’s every move. Joy, however, predominantly leads the other emotions to make the best decisions for Riley.

The conflict begins when Joy’s leadership, which has previously been perfectly on point, begins to slip when Riley’s family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. Riley’s utter confusion in a completely new environment overwhelms her, hence putting her emotions in chaos and keeping them alert on full time with the problematic assignment of keeping Riley the cheerful Riley she has always been. (In other words, Joy is occupied full time while Sadness is wallowing over the fact that she cannot do anything to help.)

(Disney & Pixar)
Joy! (voiced by Amy Poehler)

On top of Joy’s overflowing list of things to do, Sadness accidentally tampers with one of Riley’s core memories — which refer to the memory balls that characterise Riley for who she is — and modifies her gleeful, carefree emotions contained in the memory ball, altering it to become a melancholy memory ball. This leads to a major quarrel between Joy and Sadness over the now seemingly permanently dispiriting memory.

When things seem like they can’t get any worse, Joy and Sadness are sucked into ‘long term memory’, a maze that stores millions of Riley’s memory balls. The headquarters falls into panic mode as Joy and Sadness are whisked away. The film further progresses as Joy and Sadness futilely attempt to find a way back to the brain’s headquarters and as the other emotions hopelessly strive to keep Riley content without Joy’s leadership.

The reckless journey they confront is filled to the brim with both childhood innocence and psychological and emotional complications. From the train of thought, presented in the movie as a literal train, to Riley’s childhood imaginary friend Bing Bong who fades away from Riley’s coming of age, metaphorical elements are used throughout the movie to attract the wide variety of spectators. Directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen finds the flawless balance between the elements of child psychology and the heart-wrenchingly beautiful story of Riley’s coming of age and swept away the movie industry with yet another blockbuster.

Take a look at the trailer:

 

– Serim Jang (’16)

Movie Review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

A three part movie from three different perspectives, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is one for the books. “If you’re looking for a tranquil movie to watch inside the coziness of your bedsheets, Eleanor Rigby is definitely a must-see.”

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The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is not your cliché, mellow romance movie. Its flawless actors, meaningful dialogue, and gentle setting, combine to generate a heart-aching film that’s presented in a fresh, inventive way. Even from the title, one can assume that the movie is going to be well crafted and encompass an antique touch. “Eleanor Rigby,” a classic song written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, puts emphasis on loneliness and life’s triviality. Such hidden messages and profound meanings are consistent throughout The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, as it is composed of three separate films: Him, Her, and Them. Each film provides insight into the respective character’s perspective, overwhelming the audience with more thought and emotion than any other single movie could present. All three films include a set amount of repetitive scenes, but personal thoughts and experiences that cannot be fully explained in Them are perfectly crafted within Him and Her.

Written and directed by Ned Benson, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby features Jessica Chastain from Interstellar who acted as Murphy and James McAvoy from X-Men who acted as Professor Charles Xavier. From the start, the casting foreshadows a respectable outcome. And it surely shines through. In Rigby, Jessica Chastain, as Eleanor Rigby, and James McAvoy, as Conor Ludlow, are a married couple suffering – but slowly overcoming – a life changing loss. After a suicide attempt, Eleanor Rigby, as the title infers, disappears. The couple drifts apart amidst the tragedy that they are facing, and the movie craftily incorporates their past memories and aspirations that both Rigby and Ludlow shared. Their conflicts give a taste of the bitter reality that today’s movies fail to capture. The mournful yet enlightening experiences that the two experience cannot be explained merely with words.

Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy (Sarah Shatz/The Weinstein Company. All rights reserved.
Still of Jessica Chastain and James McAvoy (Sarah Shatz/The Weinstein Company)

Now, you may be wondering which version to watch first. By luck, I selected Them as my first runner. Thank goodness I did. To fully understand the context of the movie, I suggest that you watch Them  before moving onto the more thoughtful Him, and eventually Her. Her must, I repeat, MUST, be watched lastly, for it involves a final touch that wraps all three films into a complete whole. In Them or Him, Eleanor Rigby appears as a pessimistic and frail character, but with Her, you’ll be able to really understand Eleanor and sympathize with her.

If you’re looking for a tranquil movie to watch inside the coziness of your bedsheets, Eleanor Rigby is definitely a must-see. Personally, I would be willing to watch all three films three more times, in the order I mentioned above. Thanks to the changing of the seasons, the lighting and general atmosphere of the movie perfectly reflects spring and early summer, making the watch an even more heartfelt experience. For those who carry a distaste for calm and relatively static films, however, I suggest that you pass on this one. But don’t miss out on The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby’s soundtrack by Son Lux, “No Fate Awaits Me.” It’s thunderous beats erupt every so often from the quiet and slightly eerie melody, which certainly gave tremendous weight to the ending of Them and Him.

 

– Becky Yang (’16)