Review: Ad Astra (2019)

A Rocketship
Ad Astra, (To the Stars), is a space epic that often features Brad Pitt’s face. Unfortunately, he isn’t asked to smile much.

Two ongoing motifs are remarks about the exceptionally low heart rate of Pitt’s character and agency-required monologue psychological evaluations. Roy McBride’s remarks are used as a cue to the audience into his mental state. After all, there is little dialog to allow his character to be built up more naturally. No other character is important enough for that.

Central to the story is a classified “Lima” project. Despite the secrecy surrounding it, many people that McBride meets have more information for him. The project was led by Roy McBride’s missing father, the hero H. Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones. This connection provides an evolving emotional impetus for the story.

Ad Astra has a dystopian projection of how terrestrial nations deal with the resources of space. On the moon, each nation has staked out a claim that leaves a dangerous no-mans-land between their territories. Space travel has become a commercial venture, but SpaceCom seems to consider it secondary to their secret intrigues.

Since it’s a Hollywood movie, I didn’t expect the science to be very hard or precise, so I was willing to suspend disbelief for a lot. Yet, one horribly weak plot point struck me. Landing on the near side of the moon and driving to a base on the far side is hard to defend. However, the situation gave some action to a story that is heavy on cerebral pursuits. (See the psychological evaluations.)

The story is straightforward to describe. It’s hard to say much about the story without dropping spoilers. With a few nodes of action with slower stretches between them, the story would need expansion to make a novel.

I’m glad I saw the film on IMAX so that I could feast my eyes on the beautiful set development. I really appreciated the sonic environment that the movie possesses as well.

Review: Blinded by the Light (2019)

A reel of movie film
In Blinded by the Light, the first advice of dad for his son’s entry to a new school is “Stay away from the girls.” Javed, played by Viveik Karla, is a teenager in Luton, Great Britain whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. He longs to escape the nowhere town and hopes college will lead to a career as a writer. He has been an avid writer with years of journals lined up in his room. School can become his road to escape.

Javed’s longtime friend, Matt, played by Dean-Charles Chapman, is a musician whom Javed helps by writing lyrics. Matt’s frustrated with the political stock of Javed’s songs: they’re not performable. He still holds out hope for Javed’s lyrics getting better.

Javed’s father, played by Kulvinder Ghir, is an immigrant from Pakistan. He is the center of the household and manages the household’s money. The traditional role of the father is a struggle for Javed’s father when circumstances change. Unlike in Fiddler on the Roof, the family is not torn apart by events beyond their control. However, events beyond their control such as the recession under Margaret Thatcher still make them stretch and evolve.

Javed meets Roops at school. Roops, played by Aaron Phagura, gives Javed some Bruce Springsteen cassettes. The songs revolutionize Javed’s attitude and fill him with power. He feels that the music speaks directly to him. Springsteen puts words to his feelings and cinematically, the words are visually swirling around Javed as he listens.

Central to the progression of Javed as a writer is his teacher Ms. Clay, played by Hayley Atwell. She scolds him for not sharing with the world the raw emotion in his writing when he discards his poems. He follows her inspiration and writes in the school paper and then a local newspaper. Javed’s cultural background and knowledge of Urdu allow him to write a powerful story about the community’s mosque.

While the movie isn’t exactly a musical, music has a central place to the story. The movie is full of the angst and joy of youth. Javed and Roops go to New Jersey after he wins a writing contest. During the trip, the friends make a pilgrimage to visit Bruce Springsteen’s hometown sites.

One of the struggles that Javed’s family faces is the hostility of some people in their community toward Pakistani immigrants. Javed’s family faces those indignities with grace and do not become bitter when life becomes more difficult.

Blinded by the Light is an melange of conflicting cultures. The Pakistani community, the people hostile to them, students at the high school, and Javed’s friends all mix together into a scene of hope that is inspired by Bruce.

Impression: Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Thought bubble
The local AMC theater has been playing old movies for a few weekend showings. They have a couple different classics each week. That’s how I saw the original How to Train Your Dragon.

This afternoon I went to see the 1991 Disney Beauty and the Beast. They had it on twice today and the 2PM showing fit my schedule. I was the only one in the theater.

I don’t understand the economics of a movie theater. Much of their cash flow comes from concessions. They probably get money for the trailers that the show. They also have revenue from advertisers. Tickets haven’t been a substantial source of income for the movies I go to. Usually there are four or fewer in the audience. Is the fee for advertising prorated for the size of the audience?

In first run movies, the tickets are a big deal. Perhaps they just need to keep the doors open. It lets them make a net profit with the help of big movies while keeping the venue relevant by having a big selection that only few people watch. I usually go in the afternoon. That might give me a distorted perspective on how many are in an evening audience.

Perhaps the older movies are playing on behalf of Disney. It could be market research for their streaming service? Is there a corporate connection between AMC and Disney?

So, Beauty and the Beast was an ok movie. There were several songs. None of them stuck with me after the show. All of the characters were really rough caricatures and I couldn’t really identify with any of them. Of course, here’s not a lot of character development you can do in 84 minutes. I didn’t notice “adult” content that was meant to go over the heads of kids but be meaningful to adults (unless it went over my head too).

With 1991 being the release year, they could use technology to do some of the animation. I don’t think they did much. In the intro, you could see layers move as the perspective shifted on the trees; a good hint that it is cel animation. The characters were drawn primarily with cel techniques. A group of four or five animators were responsible for each character.

There was one place where you could see that they had help from computers. During the dance scene with Belle and the Beast, the stars, windows and chandelier were too complex to do as traditional cel animation. It was most obvious with the changing perspective as the camera went past the chandelier. I think the computer give the animators a starting point.

I noticed that this had a similar structure to the Aladdin that starred Robin Williams. The villain has a sidekick who is loud and obnoxious and is only played for comic relief. The sidekicks are throw away (and annoying) characters. There’s probably other tropesthat both films use.

It was a nice film for the AMCs A-List membership so that my only expense was the travel.

Review: Dora and the Lost City of Gold (2019)

Globe
Dora Explorer Márquez is a precocious girl who loves the jungle. Madelyn Miranda plays young Dora. She and her professor parents, Cole (Michael Peña) and Elena (Eva Longoria) are explorers. They encourage her inquisitiveness and enthusiasm. When Dora is six, her older cousin Diego (Malachi Barton) moves to the city with his parents which saddens Dora.

Dora’s parents have been trying to find Parapata, The Lost City of Gold. Once the parents find enough clues to locate the mysterious city, they emphasize that they are not treasure hunters. They are only in pursuit of knowledge to find the city. Despite Dora’s protests, her parents do not bring her with them in their search. They send her (now older and played by Isabela Moner) to the big city to live with her high school age cousin Diego (now played by Jeff Wahlberg).

At the high school, Dora’s unlimited positivity is scorned by stereotypical high school students. She knows more than the other students. She especially annoys the stuffy Sammy (played by Madeleine Madden). On her first day, Dora also meets the awkward Randy (played by Nicholas Coombe).

On a school field trip to the natural history museum, those four teenagers reluctantly form a team for the class treasure hunt at the museum. A staff member lets the team into a restricted basement to see ancient Egyptian relics. That was not the best move because treasure hunters who are on the trail of Parapata kidnap the four. They hope the kids will find Dora’s parents and unwittingly help them find their bounty.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark-style, they must escape dangerous traps beforeo they find the treasure. Randy names these challenges “Jungle Puzzles” that he is familiar with from computer games. The obstacles require the four to develop bonds of friendship and trust to succeed in the quest.

The film is filled with lots of lighthearted humor. Even the villains are more humorous and bumbling than scary. Dora’s pet monkey Boots adds more humor to the film with his playful resourcefulness. The film has its moments of suspense but Dora and her friends handle them with grace.

Dora is a really enthusiastic and positive person. The hidden gold is the attraction for villains while Dora, her friends and parents do not want the wealth. After returning from their adventure, Dora and her companions have a new freedom. Their negative classmates can’t reduce their enthusiasm. Dora has the opportunity to do more exploration with her parents. However, Dora decides to leave the rain forest so that she may study the “indigenous people” of her new high school.