Ad Astra – Review

Rated: 12A Cast: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland. Directed by James Gray Written by James Gray and Ethan Ross

Going into ‘Ad Astra’ I was slightly tentative. I wouldn’t say that space films are one of my favourite genres, and from what I’d seen in the trailers, the film didn’t appear to have any particularly redeeming qualities, unlike the humour of ‘The Martian’ or the delicate relationships within ‘First Man.’ Furthermore I was concerned about the pacing of the film, with a worry that it would be very slow for the sake of a sense of realism. But walking away from the film, I’m happy to say that the film completely surprised me.

If someone asked me to sum up James Gray’s film in one word, ‘sweet’ is the most applicable one I would be able to find. From the gentle and patient – almost heart-breaking – interactions that Brad Pitt’s character, ‘Roy McBride,’ has with those around him, to the beautiful cinematography that provides a true insight into the wonders of our universe, this film’s key elements are placed delicately along a linear storyline that allows for a growing connection between the audience and Roy McBride. To describe the film as ‘minimalist’ would be selling it short, but ‘Ad Astra’ approaches certain tropes of cinema in a new way – and not just simply because of the setting. Indulging in moments of action and ‘Alien’ inspired thrills, the design remains simple but the threat remains imminent. In such scenes, stylisation becomes a delicate balance between ensuring consistent themes of dedication and love are maintained, whilst telling stories of bandits on the moon and unsettling distress signals. This was not the film I expected it to be, and I am so happy about that.

I really enjoy narration. The omnipresent voice of some character who is allowed a self-reflective channel between themselves and the audience is something which when done well, can be a key element of a film’s success. In ‘Ad Astra,’ it took me a while to get used to the amount of narration that Brad Pitt’s character was allowed. It may be no more than the average film, but due to the long periods of silence or dialogue-lacking scenes, the narration can appear at first as almost excessive. There’s a reason Ridley Scott removed Deckard’s narration in ‘Blade Runner,’ as this kind of dialogue can easily become less of a source for connection, and more of a means to remove a story’s ambiguity. However, in much the same way as ‘Blade Runner,’ I began to see ‘Ad Astra’ as a modern take on the classic film-noir style of the 1940’s; with a storyline focused mainly on a single protagonist, seemingly guided by their own narration as they work to solve a mystery that has profound impacts on their own life, whilst also working within a beautifully designed world. ‘Ad Astra’ appears to be less of a homage and more of contemporary take on such a convention.

To address my opening paragraph, yes the film can be slightly slow in parts, but this isn’t a bad thing. Longer takes and less dialogue doesn’t necessarily mean that the story isn’t developing. ‘Ad Astra’ acknowledges this and works through the events of the film at its own pace. As a viewer I was happy to see the director putting more emphasis onto the entirely isolating aspects of space, rather than further action scenes or dramatic dialogue, allowing me to be pulled further into the diegesis.

In conclusion, I highly encourage you to go and see ‘Ad Astra,’ and approach the film with a willingness to be drawn into the terrifying elements of space, as well as the touching performances that are brought to the screen by both Brad Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones. It may not be a top contender come awards season, but it’s a film that isn’t afraid to attempt new ideas, and that’s why I think James Gray’s ‘Ad Astra’ is such an important watch.

Top 5 movies to look out for before 2020…

We’ve had an incredible year of film so far, every genre has told stories at the very top of their game – and we still have 3 months of the year to go! Here are our top 5 film picks to look out for between now and 2020…

The Joker (Todd Philips) UK Release: 4th October
The highly anticipated DC movie telling the story of Batman’s nemesis ‘The Joker’, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips. After Heath Ledger’s phenomenal portrayal of the same character, many were hesitant to ‘look forward’ to this film…until Joaquin Phoenix was announced. I’m a BIG Joaquin Phoenix fan, I think he is arguably one of the greatest actors around today and I personally think this casting is perfect. The trailer gives us a glimpse of the plot all set to a haunting version of the song ‘smile’. I’m expecting it to be quite sad, entangled perhaps with a bit of dark humour and, hopefully a really captivating plot re-introducing one of the villains we just love to hate. iMDB categorises it as a crime/drama/thriller so if you like a bit of action or just love the Batman universe then be sure not to miss this movie! – Ellen

The Peanut Butter Falcon (Tyler Nilson, Mike Schwartz) UK Release: 18th October
When I first heard the story behind ‘The Peanut Butter Falcon’s’ creation, I was looking forward to its release immediately. Directors Nilson and Schwartz met the film’s star, Zack Gottsagen – a 22 year old with down syndrome who always wanted to be an actor – in Venice. They decided that his story would make a great film and shot a proof-of-concept video with him. After being funded for a feature length film, production began and quickly picked up big name actors such as Shia Lebouf, Dakota Fanning and Jon Bernthal, despite remaining a relatively indie release. I can’t think of a story which would be any more of a feel-good film than the creation of someone’s dream whilst telling their own story. – Fred

The Report (Scott Z. Burns) UK Release: 15th November
Based on true events, The Report (also known as ‘The Torture Report’) tells the story of Senate staffer Daniel.J Jones who was put in charge of investigating the CIAs detention and interrogation programme after the events of 9/11 and fought to make public some very dark secrets. Starring the likes of Adam Driver and Annette Benning this film is tipped to be a ‘big hitter’ and was very well received at Sundance Film Festival. Containing scenes of an upsetting nature, inhumane treatment and torture, this drama won’t be for everyone but I imagine it will be an important watch. – Ellen

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (Vince Gilligan) Worldwide Release: 11th October
Of all the films on this list, I would say that this is the one that I am most nervous about. Breaking Bad is one of, if not my favourite TV series of all time. Avoiding spoilers, I would perhaps describe the TV series’ ending as perfect, wrapping up many stories whilst leaving the ambiguity of others to stay with the viewer. When continuing such a story, there is always the risk that answers will be provided to questions that are perhaps better left unanswered, or maybe the writing just won’t hold up to the original series. However, it appears that the films creation has been left in the trusted hands of the original writer, Vince Gilligan, and I would like to believe that he wouldn’t carry on the story of such a beloved show if he didn’t think that he could maintain the high standard he’s set for himself. Either way, when Netflix releases the film, I’m sure I’ll be watching it as soon as I can. – Fred

Little Women (Greta Gerwig) UK Release: 26th December
This is quite possibly the most exciting release of 2019 for us. What’s not to love?! A classic novel, one of the best directors of our time and an A-list cast! Listed on iMDB as a drama/romance this film follows the story of four sisters in the aftermath of the civil war. Greta Gerwig directs the likes of Saoirse Ronan, Florence Pugh, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep and Laura Dern, which should be enough to get anyone who has any interest in film along to see this movie. This coming of age story will undoubtedly be a brilliantly entertaining watch, an absolute masterclass at filmmaking and we’re sure will be carefully considered in the coming awards season. Gerwig’s continuation of strong female characters presents an exciting exploration by the director, which could be considered as the beginning of her establishment as an auteur. The energy shown in the trailer is undoubtedly infectious, and we can’t wait to experience this film. – Fred and Ellen

It wasn’t easy to pick just 5 between us so be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more reviews and articles. We’d love for you to comment and let us know which upcoming releases you’re looking forward to and why!

Downton Abbey – Review

Rated: PG
Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Michelle Dockery, Imelda Staunton
Directed by Michael Engler
Written by Julian Fellowes

The highly anticipated film based on the hugely popular television show Downton Abbey has finally arrived, hitting UK cinemas on 13th September 2019. A lot of people have commented on the initial backlash of harsh reviews and disappointed critics but I implore you to go and see for yourself, whether you’re a Downton Abbey fan or are just happy to be transported into a pure, lighthearted work of period drama I am certain that you will disagree with the nay-sayers.

As a fan of the TV series I was a definitely excited to be reintroduced to characters that I had followed for so many years but slightly hesitant as to how the TV show would translate onto the big screen. A long running series allows for real character development, in depth and well paced storylines and the opportunity to introduce and say goodbye to characters as they pleased.
Bringing back these characters 3 and a half years after the final episode aired and for just 122 minutes is a risk but frankly, one that would pay off however well it was received due to the vast fan base of the show – of course the loyal fans will flock to see it!

The plot isn’t a deeply dramatic one, in fact it’s quite easy to determine where the various storylines are going. This, however, didn’t bother me, I didn’t go to Downton to be on the edge of my seat, I went to watch a beautifully put together, heart-warming period drama and that’s exactly what I got.The plot did keep moving, it didn’t linger or drag and I think that is enough for the general audience.

The cast continued their characters just as you would expect, no one forced any dramatic changes, there were no desperate attempts to stand out. Introducing several new characters could also have been a risk however they all fit seamlessly into the world of Downton. Understandably it would take something quite special to dethrone the old favourites and for me (as well as many others i’m sure) Maggie Smith, stole the show as Violet Crawley with her sarcastic and hilarious one liners but was still given the opportunity to show why she is one of Britain’s all time greats with her precise choices and unique ability to draw every audience member into feeling like family. I particularly enjoyed a few fleeting moments of vulnerability from her character of which we don’t see many.

Do you need to have watched the series to enjoy the movie? Absolutely not, of course it’s nice to know the back stories and to understand some of the little quirks but any of the key information is masterfully included in the brilliantly written dialogue, helped of course by the fact that the writer is Julian Fellowes who also wrote the TV series.

This film wasn’t created for the critics, it was made for it’s audience, the majority of whom know and love the characters from the TV series. It wasn’t made to be an artistic masterpiece, simply an effortlessly elegant, romantic story. It is what it says on the tin, not everyones cup of tea but you know just from looking at the poster whether you’ll enjoy it or not. Take it for what it is, enjoy the romance, humour, loyalty and family.