Ad Astra continues a trend

As Hustlers was like a boring Goodfellas with strippers, Ad Astra is like a boring Apocalypse Now in space.

Rotten Tomatoes and its representative critics are in their collective wheelhouse of being wrong on this one, gushing over how Ad Astra is some sort of ode to fathers and sons. Nope. The fact that the mild-mannered Kurtz-ish character of Tommy Lee Jones happens to be Brad Pitt’s father is a side note at best, and more or less inconsequential to the doubly inconsequential, ridiculous story at hand.

Not that Ad Astra was all terrible. There’s a sort of ethereal quality and flow to a number of the sequences; a decent conveyance here and there of floating around in outer space etc. Flow is important. So walking out of the theater, I was thinking thumbs-down, but a hell of a lot better than those indie sci-fi pics from earlier this year; 5/10.

But there are just as many times when the sense of space is lost, and the frequent, chunky logic holes add up to a whole lot of no-bueno. Perhaps worst of all is the sappy, hackneyed message that seems to be its ultimate goal. The ultimate result, however, is a border-line insult to the entirety of the science fiction genre.

There’s maybe more sci-fi this year than average, but so far it’s all bad. 4/10

Comparison Notes: Gravity, Passengers, Apocalypse Now, Alien franchise, Star Trek enterprises, Moon, 2001

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood …Take 2


Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood. I stick by my original post… most of it. Reflecting on it a bit more: it’s still a wasted opportunity, even assuming Tarantino’s general approach.  So much latent material that was left unexposed…  that was my frustration as the end credits rolled.

But I’m also a big believer in judging a movie for what it is, not what it is not. And it’s really a quite entertaining film, despite some glitches. I especially liked Cliff’s interactions with the Manson clan, headed by “Pussycat”/”Cat,” and Rick attempting to deal with a precocious young actress. An encounter with Bruce Lee is another highlight.

So… there’s a lot of fun to be had. More than I let on at first. It’s in no way a masterpiece, and it rests solidly a couple pegs below Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, or Hail, Caesar!. But you need to lighten up people.  7/10

Those ellipsis still drive me nuts.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino drifted south [u]

First a note on the film’s title.  Wikipedia incorrectly lists it without the ellipsis, the marketing materials have the ellipsis after the “in” and the film itself displays the title as I have above — ultimately, the correct version. I think. The New York Times briefly addressed this issue, but one thing not mentioned is the space before the ellipsis, a grammatical error. But the space and the placement as I’ve shown seems to be the consensus.

That title is not shown until the end of the movie, though the rest of the standard intro titles are included in the correct location. Followers of my blog know that omitting for no good reason a film’s intro titles annoys the heck out of me — so a partial titles MIA annoyance here. Especially given how much Tarantino loves titles.

All these title issues serve as a signpost which hearkens the weakest Tarantino feature since Reservoir Dogs.  It is quite clear that Tarantino had a clear vision in mind for this film, and executed that vision. The problem is it’s not a very good vision. An elongated story about an aging actor looking at the demise of his career is not exactly groundbreaking, especially not the way it’s portrayed here. The whole ode-to-Hollywood component, ever-present in Time … in, only half-works. And then there’s the Manson story.

Tarantino proved himself an absolute master with fictionalized history in the brilliant Inglourious Basterds; Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight showed he knows how to optimize a period setting. Others have written more about this (e.g. this other Times article), so I’ll just agree that it only half-works here. The grand vision that Tarantino had feels a lot smaller on screen. And, as with Lincoln, there’s an opportunity that was missed. Tarantino didn’t want to make a movie about the Manson murders, but rather a semi washed-up actor and the Hollywood scene of 1969. That’s fine, but a missed opportunity and something very diminutive, even petty compared to the scale I was expecting.

And … the Manson murders still have not had their proper due on film.

* * *

I’ve always said that I welcome filmmakers to take their own, original directions. But this wasn’t that original, or particularly great. There are parts of it that are borderline cheeseville. The scene where he’s kicking himself for missing a line is real amateur-hour, even as the whole acting sequence that precedes it flows with art. On the other-other hand, the movie-within-a-movie has no connection to anything else. So not exactly Hamlet, despite the references to it.

There’s enough genuinely entertaining parts of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, including the mild arc of story presented, that I still offer a recommendation full of the normal caveats.  A missed opportunity, yes.  But there’s fun to be had — probably all Tarantino is going for, and it didn’t drag too much even with the nearly 3-hour running time.  Unlike Lincoln, Good Times in Hollywood earns a pass.  I just hope this doesn’t mark the beginning of a latter Oliver Stone era in which Tarantino can no longer figure out how to make good movies.


Comparison Notes: Hail, Caesar! (a much better take on Hollywood’s past, and a vastly more entertaining film), Lincoln, Café Society

UPDATE: It took one more night’s sleep to crank it up a notch; now 7/10.


Film Brief: The Big Short

The Big Short - poster

The Big Short follows three parties who fail to intersect while chasing the novel idea of shorting the housing market.  It’s good strong material muted, which is to say mishandled, by the maker of Anchorman, and you can see what I thought of the last Anchorman movie.  The director Adam McKay employed a trite ‘wink and a nod,’ talking into the camera shtick which didn’t do the film any favors, a further sign of the filmmaker’s lack of skill in weaving his yarn.

So The Big Short is borderline thumbs-down, but it projected a lively spirit, the performances were well crafted, and it wasn’t boring, so 6/10.

Comparison Notes: Recommended better options: Wall Street, American Psycho, Glengarry Glen Ross; Not Recommended: The Wolf of Wall Street

12 Years a Slave Wins at BAFTA

The BAFTA (British Academy) awards have proven to be a good predictor of the top prize at the Oscars, and are the last major show of the season before Hollywood’s biggest night.  If the correlation holds this year, 12 Years a Slave will win it all.  The importance of BAFTA caused the screaming headline: “BAFTA Awards: ’12 Years a Slave’ Pulls Out Shocking Win” by — shocking only for those in a state of denial or with their heads buried in sand — 12 Years has been racking up all the most important awards.  And that guy is getting paid to be a journalist — shameful.

12 Years a Slave with Cumberbatch

Those who follow my blog know I am rooting for 12 Years, and for two reasons.  The primary reason: it’s easily, clearly, by far the best film of 2013.  But it’s also an important movie — every American should see this — especially every white American.  12 Years, besides being a very great film that deserves to live on for years, is the vehicle by which we may attain an understanding of our country hitherto absent.

Here’s hoping that the Academy seals the deal on March 2nd and drives a large number of people to see this movie who otherwise would not.