‘Ad Astra’ Film Review

Photo via Francois Duhamel/Twentieth Century Fox

Coming off the stellar Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt once again stars in a masterpiece of cinema in 2019 with the new space drama, Ad Astra.

This movie takes place in a fictional world where space exploration has reached impressive feats, such as settlements on the moon, an underground base on Mars, and exploration into the outer Solar System is possible.

The premise of this film is that astronaut Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, is sent into space by the government to track down his father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who is viewed as a threat to humanity’s existence.

This film is downright brilliant. First, the cinematography is beautiful to look at on the big screen. Hoyte van Hoytema did an excellent job portraying the vastness, the beauty and the awe of space. Seeing the planets and their rings on the big screen was breathtaking and made the theater experience memorable.

Another memorable aspect of this movie was the acting. Pitt is the star of the film and the story is told solely from his point of view. The character study of Roy McBride was excellent as it delved into his emotional state and what was on his mind during a situation or conflict. Pitt gave the character so much authentic emotion and depth that made him feel like a real person and not a fictional character. Even though it dealt with fictional science-fiction elements, the performance and the writing of McBride made it feel much more grounded than other sci-fi blockbusters such as Star Wars.

Last, the film thrived when it came to immersing the audience into their world. Not only did the cinematography help make the film look great, but also through great writing, it makes the world feel natural and authentic. They established on the moon how there are territories that are disputed, and this would come into play in the film. Also, the shot where they showed a strip of restaurants, such as Arby’s, on the moon made it feel like that was a real strip and not some fantastical concept.

The only complaint is the film took too long to get going and the beginning was very forgettable, but once the plot kicks in, the film is incredible.   

With great writing, acting, and cinematography, Ad Astra is a cinematic masterpiece that will leave viewers in deep thought after the film ends, and in awe of the beautiful and stunning world it set up.

Rating: 9.5/10

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IT: Chapter Two review

IT: Chapter Two is the continuation of the 2017’s hit horror film, IT. The film takes place 27 years after the events of the first film with our beloved “Loser’s Club” now as adults and all are living outside of Derry, Maine except for Mike Hanlon. When Mike discovers that “It” has returned from hibernation to feast on the children of Derry, he calls in the gang to return to Derry and fulfill the promise they made as kids. I absolutely adore the 2017 film. It was my second favorite film of that year behind Dunkirk, but at the time, it was the most fun I have ever had in a theater because it was my first R-rated, horror film theater experience. The child actors were incredible, the cinematography and set designs were immaculate, and Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise the Clown was convincingly terrifying. With all the hype for the second part to this adventure, would Chapter Two deliver the same quality the original gave us? For the most part, the film excels in its scares over its predecessor but at the expense of more flaws.

To start off, the casting was perfect. James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain could not have been more perfect choices for the characters of Bill and Beverley. Bill Hader steals the show as Richie Tozier; not only because he is hilarious throughout the film but he also, surprisingly, delivers an emotional, “tug-at-your-heartstrings” performance that I cannot praise enough. As a big fan of Saturday Night Live, seeing Hader on-screen is an absolute treasure. There is never a dull moment when you see him on anything and he never fails to put a smile on your face. James Ransone, who plays adult Eddie Kaspbrak, shines as well and is the adult embodiment of Jack Dylan Grazer, who played young Eddie in the first film. There are times where I feel as though moviegoers forget just how important it is to have a good cast. If you don’t have a cast that can deliver the performances that you can latch on to and get behind, regardless of the grandeur of the scenes, the movie will not work. If there is one perfect element of this entire epic, it’s the casting.

Another positive about this film is the freak-show horror going on constantly. These movies know what they are trying to be and that is something to be respected. IT is not meant to be this serious, dark horror film like that of The Conjuring. Most scenes feel as though you are walking through a nearly three-hour-long haunted house. Everywhere you turn, there is another unsettling supernatural element that appears on-screen. While some come off as goofy, a majority of them did terrify me. The jumpscares, while aplenty, are not false scares and most were executed the way they should be, especially this one scene involving a little girl being lured under baseball bleachers by Pennywise. This movie does not hold back on anything. Take it as you will but you will be shocked by a couple of scenes where you will say to yourself, “Wow, they really did that”. AND IT IS MAGNIFICENT. However, as I said before, this film does have more flaws than the original.

This film is nearly three hours long and there are points where you will feel it. While I respect the choice to stick to the book, there are scenes that do not need to exist. Book-to-film adaptations are called adaptations for a reason. The characterization of the adults is lacking as well with the constant flashbacks to their childhood days. They are really just in the movie to defeat Pennywise and that is about it. Richie and Eddie are the only two characters with a deeper element to them. There are technical choices that could throw off some people. With the kids trying to reprise a role from the same time period that they filmed three to four years ago, they look completely different and you may catch that Finn Wolfhard is de-aged and some of the voices are processed because… PUBERTY.

In the end, IT: Chapter Two delivers a satisfying ending and is a respectable conclusion to such a beautiful film from 2017. While you may get bored and hear a bunch of people say that this film wasn’t scary, this is a good film and you are going to have a blast when you see it.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is the film adaptation of Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell’s classic, bone-chilling books from the ’80s and ’90s. If you are like me, then you would have remembered checking these books out from your school’s library or your 4th-grade teacher had these books on a shelf in the classroom and you read them during free time. I was amped for some of the stories to be told through the big screen, especially Harold and The Red Spot. The books are iconic thanks to illustrations used for the stories. The drawings set the tone for the suspenseful adventure that you are enthralled in when you read them word for word. Each line gets more chilling until the payoff hits. With this movie, we do get solid buildup to the on-coming scare, but the payoff is underwhelming. When you go into this movie, do not expect a thriller that will leave you scarred for the night. This is a tame PG-13 horror film that is aimed to be enjoyed by adults and kids alike, which ends up being the prime flaw of this film.

As every story gets told, the scares get weaker and weaker to the point where the final act sadly turns comical. The way that Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker is portrayed was unfortunate in my eye because it was the story that haunted me the most as a child. The entities used as the figments of the horror are fairly dull minus the first two. I understand that these stories were written for children but a horror film’s goal is to be terrifying. This film does not deliver the nightmares that you would expect. I think an R-rating would have benefitted it ten-fold. Another problem with the scares is that they rely heavily on the generic sound-cue jumpscare. The sound-cue ends up being more terrifying than what is shown on screen. My final negative with the film are the protagonists. There is not enough characterization given to our main girl and guy. There is this awkward connection tied to our main male character that has to do with the ongoing Vietnam War during the mid-20th century. Our main heroine has familial issues that are not explored enough. I think the writing could have taken that background deeper than it went. Her friends are really there to be written into these stories and can be annoying with some cringe-worthy one-liners. However, what this movie lacks in great scares and character development, makes up for with aesthetic and superb cinematography.

The film takes place on Halloween and a few days following. Once it hits Blu-Ray or becomes digitally available, I would highly recommend this as something to watch on that day. I know I will when I have my annual Halloween movie marathon that includes film such as Trick ‘r Treat, Evil Dead, and John Carpenter’s Halloween. For someone that spends nine months in a small town, I appreciate the small-town vibes in this film. You can clearly tell that it was filmed during the Fall season to help add on to the more Halloween-esque feel. The cinematography and use of practical effects are as amazing as you would expect from Guillermo Del Toro product. The color saturation used in certain scenes stands out to make the setting a character through the stories being written in the moment. The way that the stories come to life and the portrayal of the antagonist are very refreshing in a cinematic era of recycled material and common tropes. The narrative stands out from other films because it is not written in like every other film.

Like I said before, this film will most likely underwhelm you if you were looking for nightmarish scares. At best, it is a haunted house vibe with the stories playing out as a race against time for our main characters. The best way to describe this film would be as a good warmup before IT: Chapter Two hits theatres because the scares are not going to be held back in any way. In the end, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is highly enjoyable from a technical standpoint but is held back tremendously due to tameness and that treaded PG-13 rating.

Rating: 7/10