Film Review: Ad Astra

James Gray’s Ad Astra offers a profusion of both spectacle and substance. This serious science fiction is to be treasured. 

Astronaut Roy McBride is given a mission that takes him to the edge of the solar system. His father disappeared several years before, and McBride is tasked with attempting to send a message to him…

Directed and written by James Gray, with co-writer Ethan Gross, Ad Astra offers a high-concept premise with its central mission. Yet the narrative develops into something more complex and thought provoking as the film progresses. Part of the film’s beauty is that the plot seems predictable, but shifts on its audience in a most welcome manner. 

Protagonist Roy McBride is finely crafted. He comes across as serious and controlled in his emotions. Whilst this may not sound like the most sympathetic of main characters, it absolutely works within the world of Ad Astra. Set in the near future, film has a strong sense of verisimilitude. The science fiction elements are not particularly fantastical; Gray grounds film in the plausible. 

Ad Astra takes cues from older science fiction; and at times feels like a homage to the serious sci-if of the 1960s and 1970s. The influence of Tarkovsky’s Solaris can be felt both visually and thematically. With each new setting, the look is distinct. The Mars sequences in particular feel like they have been taken straight out of the 1970s, thanks to production designer Kevin Thompson’s highly stylised sets. 

The themes that the film explores again harks back to earlier science fiction. Roy’s development explores the themes of drive, expectation, and isolation. Gray takes a deft touch in exploring these. The climax of the film conveys sincerity in its emotion.  The spectre of Joseph Conrad looms, and the influence works exceptionally well.

There are some great set pieces in the film, offering thrills amongst the pensiveness. Sequence on the moon great, as is opening gambit. Gray and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema offer wonderful spectacle with their visualisation of various space environments. The sound design does a great job in adding to the ambience. 

Brad Pitt offers a superb performance as Roy. The sombre nature of his character is conveyed in a most convincing manner, making way for a well-earned emotional pay off. Along with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Pitt has delivered two of his best performances to date in the last few months. Support from Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga is good, but Pitt really is the star of the show. 

James Gray has delivered original, captivating science fiction with Ad Astra. Here’s hoping its success will lead to more fresh, big-budget, adult-orientated films. 

Previews: Rambo: Last Blood Trailer, Ad Astra, More!

An abundance of film-related goodness in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the Rambo: Last Blood trailer, Ad Astra, Marriage Story, and more…

Rambo: Last Blood Trailer

Here is the latest Rambo: Last Blood trailer. Sylvester Stallone returns as iconic action hero John Rambo. The film, purportedly the last in the series which began in 1982, sees Rambo confront his past and exact revenge on one final mission. Directed by Adrian Grunberg, Rambo: Last Blood will be released in UK cinemas on 19th September 2019.

Ad Astra Trailer

Above is the new trailer for Ad Astra. Starring Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ruth Negga, the film is about an astronaut who is sent to the outer edges of the solar system. The film’s success may be the bellwether for the direction that Disney takes 20th Century Fox, after some box office failures. Ad Astra will hit UK screens on 18th September 2019.

Marriage Story Poster

The first poster and teaser trailers for Noah Baumbach‘s Marriage Story are here. The film is about the breakup of a marriage and the impact on family. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver lead the cast, which includes Laura Dern, Alan Alda, and Ray Liotta. Marriage Story will be released in selected cinemas and on Netflix this Autumn.

Underwater Trailer

Underwater is a new disaster movie about a group of underwater researchers who must scramble to safety after an earthquake hits their subterranean station. The cast is lead by Kristen Stewart, and also includes T.J. Miller and Vincent Cassel. Underwater is scheduled for release in UK cinemas on 10th January 2020.

Stardust First Look

Here is the very first image from the upcoming Stardust. The film is about a young David Bowie, who is about to embark on his first road trip to America. Johnny Flynn stars as Bowie, and is joined by Jena Malone and Marc Maron. Stardust does not yet have a release date.

Previews: Ad Astra Poster, The Current War, More!

Lots to see in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the new Ad Astra poster, The Current War, Pain And Glory, and more…

Ad Astra Poster

Here is the brand new Ad Astra poster. The film, directed by James Gray, is about an astronaut who travels to the edge of the solar system to find his missing father. Brad Pitt heads the cast, and is joined by Tommy Lee Jones and Ruth Negga. Ad Astra launches onto UK screens on 18th September 2019.

The Current War Trailer

Above is the trailer for the forthcoming The Current War. Set in the late 19th century, the film is about the rivalry between Thomas Edison and entrepreneur George Westinghouse. The enviable cast includes Michael Shannon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Katherine Waterston, Nicholas Hoult, and Tom Holland. Counting Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, The Current War hits UK cinemas on 26th July 2019.

Pain And Glory Trailer

Here is the latest trailer for Pain And Glory. Directed by Pedro Almodóvar (The Skin I Live In, I’m So Excited), the film is about an ageing film director and a series of re-encounters. The film, which stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, will be released in UK cinemas on 23rd August 2019.

21 Bridges Poster

21 Bridges is an upcoming thriller with quite a cast. The film stars Chadwick Boseman, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, Stephan James, and J.K. Simmons. 21 Bridges is a thriller about a New York detective involved in a city-wide manhunt for a pair of cop killers. The film is set for release in UK cinemas on 27th September 2019.

BFI August Season

There is plenty to look forward to at the BFI Southbank this August, leading with a season of Cary Grant films. Classics such as The Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday, and Notorious will be screened in August. Other highlights include a preview of Pain And Glory and a Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar, and a preview of Netflix’s upcoming The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance television series. More details of the full programme can be found here.

Previews: Don’t Look Now Trailer, Ad Astra, More!

Plenty new and renewed in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including the new Don’t Look Now trailer, Ad Astra, An Acceptable Loss, and more…

Don’t Look Now Trailer

Here is a brand new Don’t Look Now trailer. The 1973 classic gets a 4K Ultra HD restoration, which will play in cinemas from 5th July, and be available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Collector’s Edition from 29th July 2019. Directed by Nicholas Roeg, Don’t Look Now is an iconic thriller, and truly a must-see film.

Ad Astra Trailer

Here is the first trailer for the hotly anticipated Ad Astra. The film is about an astronaut who travels to the edge of the solar system to find his missing father and the project he was working on. Directed by James Gray (The Lost City of Z), the film stars Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, and Ruth Negga. Ad Astra will hit UK screens on 18th September 2019.

An Acceptable Loss Trailer

An Acceptable Loss is a political thriller about Libby, a university lecturer who formerly worked as an aide for the US Vice President. When the Vice President becomes President, Libby worries about her safety. The film stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Tika Sumpter. An Acceptable Loss will be available on Digital Download from 15th July 2019.

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Trailer

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is a new horror based on the book series of the same name. Set in 1968 small-town America, the film is about a young girl who turns her horrible secrets into a series of scary stories, which are found by a group of teenagers. Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is directed by André Øvredal and co-written and produced by Guillermo del Toro. The film is released in UK cinemas in August 2019.

Le Mans ’66 Trailer

Here is the first trailer for Le Mans ’66 (known as Ford vs Ferrari in the US). The film is about the designer and race driver who built a revolutionary race car for Ford to take on the dominating race cars of Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France in 1966. Directed by James Mangold (Logan, Knight and Day), the film stars Christian Bale and Matt Damon. Le Mans ’66 launches on to UK screens on 8th November 2019.

Previews: The Accountant trailer, The Woods and more!

Plenty in this week’s preview of coming attractions, including The Accountant trailer, The Woods, and more…

The Accountant Trailer

Here is the new The Accountant trailer. The film stars Ben Affleck as a maths savant who works as a freelance accountant for dangerous criminal organisation. With his latest client, accounting clerk (Anna Kendrick) notices a major discrepancy. The Accountant is set for release on 4th November 2016.

The Woods Trailer

The first-look trailer for The Woods smartly eschews revealing too much. The film has been receiving critical acclaim thus far. It will be interesting to see what You’re Next and The Guest director Adam Wingard has in store for horror fans. The Woods will be released in UK cinemas on 16th September 2016.

Jason Bourne Featurette

Jason Bourne is back in this new featurette for the upcoming action thriller. Jason Bourne reunites Matt Damon with original director Paul Greengrass. Alicia Vikander also joins the cast, which includes Julia Stiles and Tommy Lee Jones. Jason Bourne bounces back onto the big screen on 27th July 2016.

Alice Through The Looking Glass Clip

Here is a new clip from the upcoming Alice Through The Looking Glass. Mia Wasikowska’s Alice returns to Wonderland after an absence to find things have taken a turn for the worse. The film reunites the cast from the 2010 film including Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway. Alice Through The Looking Glass hits UK screens on 27th May 2016.

The Magnificent Seven Trailer

The Magnificent Seven is a remake of 1960’s The Magnificent Seven (which was, in turn, a remake of Seven Samurai). Antoine Fuqua, which features an all-star cast including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. The Magnificent Seven will be released in IMAX and regular cinemas 23rd September 2016.

Previews: Criminal Trailer, Julieta and More!

A host of film-related goodness in this week’s previews, including the Criminal trailer, Julieta, The Purge: Election Year and more…

Criminal Trailer

Here is the new Criminal trailer. The film features an enviable cast that includes Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, and Tommy Lee Jones. Criminal revolves around death-row inmate Costner, who is implanted with the memories and skills of CIA operative Reynolds. The film will hot the big screen on 15th April 2016.

Julieta Trailer

Here is the trailer for Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film Julieta. The film centres on Julieta, a 55-year-old teacher who writes a confessional letter to her estranged adult daughter. The films seems to lack the comedy of Almodóvar’s other recent efforts; it seems a more reflective affair. Julieta is set for release in UK cinemas in August 2016.

Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates

Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates Poster

Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates is the latest Zac Efron comedy. The film stars Efrom and Adam Devine as brothers who are required to bring dates to their sister’s wedding. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick may look the part, but they are after a free trip to Hawaii. Mike & Dave Need Wedding Dates is set for release on 12th August 2016.

Our Kind of Traitor Trailer

Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harries star as a British couple who meet a charismatic Russian money launderer on holiday. Based on the John Le Carré novel, the film also stars Stellan Skarsgård and Damian Lewis. Directed by the acclaimed Susanna White, Our Kind of Traitor will be released in cinemas on 6th May 2016.

The Purge: Election Year Trailer

The third instalment of the franchise, The Purge: Election Year sees the return of Frank Grillo’s character. In this film, he must protect a senator who has publicly spoken about her intention to end the annual purge event. The Purge: Election Year bounds onto UK screens on 15th July 2016.

Film Review: Emperor

EMPEROR

War drama Emperor lifts the veil on a little elucidated aspect of World War II and its aftermath. Peter Webber’s film is most absorbing when it focuses on the political aspects of the plot.

After the Japanese have surrendered at the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur tasks Japan expert General Bonner Fellers with a critical mission. Fellers must investigate the culpability of Emperor Hirohito, and whether he should be hanged as a war criminal…

Emperor combines a historical drama with a detective story. This approach to real incidents in history is an interesting one. The investigation aspect keeps viewers engaged with the plot. The film works better for those who are unclear about the outcome, as this adds a sense  of mystery to proceedings.

The audience is asked to side with protagonist Fellers in Emperor. The use of narration works to put viewers in his shoes. Coupled with the personal story, the film is as much about Fellers as it is about his examination of whether Hirohito should be charged.

Where Webber’s film stumbles is in its insistence of including a love story. Although this may provide Fellers with some depth, it ultimately detracts from the more interesting central narrative. The flashback sequences and concentration upon Fellers relationship with Aya feel almost shoehorned to fulfil an unnecessary need for a romantic element.

Emperor really focuses on Japanese culpability rather than American accountability. The theme of Japanese remorse runs throughout the film. The only sense of US regret is channelled through Fellers, and even then this is linked to his personal connection.

The film’s production design is excellent. There is a sense of destruction in Tokyo which is illustrated with a layer of authenticity. There is a good sense of setting and period, with memorable touches such as the glistening skin of Matthew Fox’s Fellers. Performances are decent all round; it is as if the role of General MacArthur was made for Tommy Lee Jones.

Emperor is a competent drama, although it is marred by deviating away from the central strand.