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

Aniara: More Bad, Pointless Science Fiction

I keep hoping to run into a little indie sci-fi film maybe half as good as Moon or a tenth as good as Under the Skin.  I think the Moon-reminiscent poster overcame my reluctance to see another foreign indie low-budget sci-fi flick.  My aspirations proved futile.

Aniara is mostly atrocious, if marginally better than High Life.  I think both are trying to take this skewed European sensibility of everyday life-with-a-couple-crises-thrown-in and apply it to a space travel framework.  It’s like a bad French film à la La Chambre Bleue set aboard a big cruise ship in space.  The result for both High Life and Aniara is nothing short of a horrendous, slow moving torture session.  I would literally rather stare at the monolith of 2001 for two straight hours than sit through this movie.

I think there is a potentially poignant English Patient-ish point that is trying to be made with this movie.  But with wide, maw-like gaps in premise and execution set upon a flimsy skeleton of a story, that point is never let to breathe.

I WOULD LITERALLY RATHER STARE AT THE MONOLITH OF 2001 FOR TWO STRAIGHT HOURS 

As I watched this dismal film, I had wistful remembrance of Passengers, a downright brilliant thrill-ride by comparison.  2/10

Comparison Notes: besides those mentioned above, Snowpiercer

Sci-Fi Gone Awry: High Life

Perhaps I was too harsh with Pet Sematary.  High Life is even more boring, because little story ever existed.  Worse, it is riddled with logic and execution holes — like a leading actor who looks exactly the same from one scene to the next when you later realize he is, in fact, 15 years older.  I’ve seen this before.  Pro tip for directors: people don’t look exactly the same 15 years later, unless agelessness is part of the Sci Fi at play — which it distinctly is not here.  The logic issues go way beyond that, but it’s not worth the effort to delineate them.

High Life is so idiotic, so insipid it makes a movie like Raw look brilliant by comparison.  It’s an embarrassment to good science fiction, a slap in the face to the entire genre. I think there was a small seed of an interesting idea which had nothing to do with space travel, but boy was it muddled to nothingness.  2/10

Comparison Notes (all much better; most recommended): Cube, Snowpiercer, Moon, Passengers, Ex Machina, The Box, Blindness, Under the Skin, The Skin I Live In, Holy Motors

This is Us

No, not the overrated NBC “drama.” This is Us: the next movie from Jordan Peele.

The trailer caused me to think this (Us) would be a twist on other home invasion films such as The StrangersFunny Games, The Last House on the Left etc. — and certainly that element is a factor.  The same trailer gave me pause that I would be kept from sleeping.  Not so much: Us was a disappointment, and did not get under my skin.  It did not mark, as I had hoped, a narrative progression vis-à-vis Get Out. No, this is a distinct regression in all ways compared to the film tied for first place of 2017.

A ZOMBIE FLICK – DOPPELGÄNGER PIC RE-HASH/MASH-UP 

Peele had a concept with Get Out that was fresh and thrilling; that level of concept was not to be found in Us.  There are several new ideas here, but essentially we’re talking about a zombie – doppelgänger re-hash mash-up pic that makes you appreciate how much better David Lynch handles this kind of material.

Even so, Us is an entertaining film, especially in the first half.  Fun, and ultimately a bit lame, and underwhelming, which goes to explain why I waited two weeks to publish this post.  7/10

Upgrade Your Movie-Going Experience

I wasn’t expecting much with Upgrade, thinking it would be just another bionic man / Limitless re-take.  In a way, it is — but plenty of original material including a refreshing sci-fi vision and design sense combine with a brisk plot to move Upgrade beyond the ordinary. This is a fun movie.

Something else completely unique about Upgrade: the first ever SPOKEN entry titles (that I’ve ever seen/heard).  At one point there was just a bit of lag, but I liked the end.  Those involved with putting out Blade Runner could learn a thing or two from the Blum-House Boys.  8/10

Comparison Notes (recommendations mixed): the aforementioned LimitlessLucy, Blade Runner I & II, The Matrix, The Terminator, John Wick, Ex Machina

A Quiet Place among the Pines

A Quiet Place, or:

Don’t Make a Sound or You Might Be Dead in the Morning, or

Whisper Softly, My Dear or It Will Be Your Last Whisper, or

I am Woman, Don’t Hear Me Roar, or

Do Go Quietly Into That Good Night, or

Have I Told You How Much I Love You Lately?  No?  That’s Coz We’d All Be Dead, or

Hush Now Baby, Don’t You Cry… or You’re Really Gonna Cry, or

Silent Running II, or

Silence is Golden

or… you get the point… is full of premise holes, like the idea that people can go about their lives without ever sneezing, snoring, or coughing.  Or that an entire family walking around barefoot outside for miles and miles every day could ever happen.

A sort of cross between Alien and Don’t Breathe from a couple years back, A Quiet Place would have been a lot better had it not taken itself so seriously.  Because once you take everything so seriously, so literally, your film peels open and is exposed to the logical errors.  Had it taken the obvious path of a farce, e.g. Grindhouse movies, Fido, Teeth, Zombieland, etc., we’d be doing a lot better here.

But John Krasinski wanted to demonstrate that he can be a serious actor and filmmaker, so we don’t get to see that farce.  Only his sober non-reality.

And despite all that lead up, I can say I was largely engaged.  That it all works anyway… until the conclusion.  The movie does a good job of conveying the feeling of getting into hotter and hotter water, and the atmospherics aren’t bad.  Krasinski & Blunt provide solid performances.  But, that conclusion.  Without giving anything away, part of the conclusion I liked, and another part of it served to re-focus all the fundamental flaws of the picture.

Some movies require a suspension of disbelief.  The successful ones allow that suspension of disbelief to happen.  But when a movie is trying so hard to be hyper-realistic in all other ways, it defeats its purpose.  The trailer is good, though.  Maybe just watch the trailer.

5/10

Comparison Notes: besides the above-mentioned films, 10 Cloverfield Lane, It Comes at Night, Jurassic Park, I Spit on Your Grave, John Dies at the End, The Last House on the Left

P.S.  The Purge is a film that on a dramatic level might be right up my alley.  But the whole premise is so utterly nonsensical, I refuse to watch it or any of the various sequels.  Point being: premise is important.