Ad Astra: A Beautiful, Slow, and Strange Masterpiece

An intergalactic film that explores themes of the imminent future and the search for truth, Ad Astra is an engaging and visually spectacular movie standout.

Ad Astra is one of the most fascinating movies I’ve seen in a while. Directed by James Gray of The Lost City of Z, it’s a film I can safely say is one of my favorite movies of the year. It’s been getting a lot of mixed reviews though as critics and audiences seem to either love or hate this movie. It’s purposely methodical and slow which is bound to frustrate the average moviegoer, but also beautifully shot and extremely complex in its themes despite a simple narrative.

I have seen the movie twice now and both times were very different experiences for me. I was shocked the first time I saw it by its amazing cinematography and visual effects, but more invested in its narrative the second time. This is a very lonely and even at times depressing movie as Roy McBride, played by Brad Pitt, searches for his father who is likely up to no good billions of miles away. This is a film that I feel deserves to be discussed in detail. In order to do so, I will need to discuss SPOILERS for the film for the rest of this article. My recommendation to you all is if you’re at least curious about it, try to see it once in the theater and give it a chance, but if you don’t like these types of slow space odyssey like films and were never interested in this film to begin with, you may not find much to win you over. With that being said, let’s discuss this movie in detail from the visual aspects to its themes and ideas.

Check out the trailer released by IMAX here:

One of its strongest themes is the effect space travel can have on a human being and how this can damage someone psychologically. *****SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE REST OF THE ARTICLE*****

The film starts off in the near future where mankind now has the resources to be able to dedicate more time to discovering space. Some countries, particularly the United States, now have stations set up on the moon and in Mars where research is conducted and where space travel commences. It is revealed that Clifford McBride, played by Tommy Lee Jones, began a mission known as the Lima Project many years ago in an effort to discover intelligent alien life to hopefully help humans in the continued discovery of our universe. That mission had since seemingly ended but power surges are now being emitted from the capsule which is destroying bases in space and killing innocent civilians both on Earth and in space. One of these power surges directly affects Roy, Clifford’s son, who, while repairing a satellite in the sky, experiences one of these power surges which propels him off the structure towards Earth. He then is ordered on a mission to Mars to attempt to make communication with his father to see if they can grab his attention so they can track his location and hopefully figure out a way stop these surges.

One of my favorite aspects of the movie is this film’s depiction of the future and the society that surrounds it. As Roy departs for his journey, he must first travel to the moon to reach the base and meet his team that will take him to Mars. They order Roy to travel “commercially”, which this film introduces as a concept, in order to keep a low profile. We also find once Roy has gotten to the moon that there seems to be a little society which has formed there as there is now an airport with restaurant locations like Applebee’s, Yoshinoya, and Subway. This film’s depiction of the future and settlement of intergalactic territories almost reminded me of Rick and Morty in its realism and attention to detail. It was interesting too to find that nations are still fighting over territory on the moon as a Virgin Atlantic PSA warns its passengers to stay in safe spaces as they could be caught in the middle of a war zone if they go outside the safe lines. I can’t help but wonder how many years it will be until humanity has colonized the moon and it becomes widely accepted for passengers to travel to the moon commercially.

One criticism many people had with this movie is that some scenes felt “pointless.”

A scene involving Roy traveling through a war zone in order to get to the military base and a scene in which Roy’s crew responds to a mayday call on the way to Mars some critics determined were exciting but ultimately pointless to the main story. I would argue that these scenes are important as they either develop the environment or the characters in question. The rover scene provides proof to the audience that the moon is essentially a huge war zone. The mayday call scene, however, involves Roy’s crew finding an abandoned craft in which a couple of space primates have broken loose and killed everyone on board. Roy and his crew are able to destroy the chimps but it still seems to have a negative effect on Roy. It is mentioned earlier in the film that Roy’s pulse is never above 80 bpm which means that his anxiety levels remain consistently low. He is forced to take seemingly daily psychological evaluations in order to ensure that it is safe for him to continue on the mission and it is events like this that test him as a competent astronaut. Some have criticized Roy’s character to be dull because Brad Pitt is forced to give an emotionless and calm performance, but it did not bother me as I acknowledge that Roy’s emotionless expressions make up his character. Other actors would have tried to go big in their performance, but Pitt always keeps his performance laid back and subdued which I think is extremely fitting for a character who is forced to remain calm in order to go deeper into space.

One of the most marketed scenes in the trailers that critics found exciting but pointless. See the clip here:

Once Roy gets to Mars he finds that his father is still in his capsule in Neptune, likely still searching for intelligent life. The people in charge of the base at Mars, Space Command, refuse to let Roy travel on the mission to Neptune. It isn’t until later when we find out that the reason is that Roy’s father actually murdered his crew after they hesitated to go beyond the solar system to keep finding alien life. Since it would ruin the reputation of Space Command given that they’ve been able to spread the narrative that his father was a hero for so long, they refuse to let him continue on this journey to find his father. He is able to stow away on the rocket to Mars, but he is forced to kill everyone on board as they try to attack him once he gets on. He must now travel from Mars to Neptune all by himself, a journey which theoretically would take him over 10 years. This is one of the issues I do have with the movie. Although we feel the effects time has on the character psychologically, it never really is shown physically. Roy’s hair never turns grey, his skin doesn’t begin to wrinkle, he looks as if he was the same age by the time he gets to Neptune and by the time he gets home (which again could span over 20 years).

Once Roy reaches Neptune he finds his father still alive as well as the malfunctioning antimatter causing the surges throughout the solar system. Clifford refuses to go home with his son and at this moment admits that he never cared about him or his well being and only really cares to successfully complete his mission. Even though Roy is able to get his father to leave the capsule with him so he can blow it up, Clifford refuses to go home with Roy and forces him to let go. Roy, likely acknowledging the hurt Clifford has caused him, unhooks him from the tether they both are connected to, ultimately killing his own father in the process. The audience at this point now knows that this is the most challenging moment Roy has ever faced as he’s forced to confront the harsh reality that his father is not who he thought he was and further act upon this realization. And even through this, Roy still doesn’t lose his temper or have a mental breakdown as an average audience member may expect him to. I originally did not like the ending of this movie as I thought it was a somewhat disappointing conclusion to a largely built-up story, but upon second viewing I found I liked the ending given that Roy was able to finally gain closure in his life and accept his father for who he truly is.

Ad Astra is the type of movie any serious lover of film needs to see at least once

Ad Astra is a movie I love to death and I think any fan of movies should check out as soon as they can. This is not your average movie-going experience and is definitely not something you watch on a date maybe for fun. James Gray has created a deep, complex, and lonely tale of a man who must accept the reality his father is not the man he thought he was through an interstellar journey. Many people are also going to call this a rip off of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I too noticed the similarity between the two movies. But what kept this movie consistently engaging for me though was the main character and the journey he took. Gray’s direction and the cinematography as done excellently by Hoyte Van Hoytema is just icing on the cake to this intergalactic masterpiece. See this on the biggest screen you can, and I hope you all enjoy!

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

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Is Captain Marvel Worth Your Time?

Captain Marvel is a mediocre entry into the MCU, but nonetheless a fun film.

Captain Marvel was directed by husband and wife team Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and stars Brie Larson as the powerful Captain Marvel, also known as Carol Danvers.  This is the 21st film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (holy s***!) and they’re still going semi-strong.  Despite the repetitive nature of these films, they still manage to make me happy at the end of the day. 

I’m not sure what it is, but even though all these movies are made for “normies” who like “big” blockbuster movies, I always manage to watch these movies and get the impression that they feel personal to me in some way.  This is most likely because of the absolutely incredible character building as well as strong world building.  In my opinion, Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2, Doctor Strange, Thor: Ragnarok, and the first Avengers movie are the best in the series/universe. What these movies did to make themselves so well done was either introduce the formula that has been sustaining them for so long, or take that formula we are used to and did something new and exciting with it.

Caveat: I wouldn’t say that Black Panther is the best film in the MCU, at least when compared to Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse or Avengers: Infinity War, but I will say that one does feel more unique in some aspects of its style and presentation. Looking back I am happy it did get nominated and even receive some Academy Awards.

Captain Marvel takes place before most Marvel movies at around 1995!

The film tells the story of Vers and the clan of Kree as they defend their territory against their enemies, the Skrulls. After she escapes a Skurll ship where they attempt to extract her memories, she’s shot out of her escape pod and finds herself atop a Blockbuster Video location in Los Angeles. After making a successful land on the ground and informing Nick Fury, an agent for S.H.I.E.L.D., of the war that is brewing between the two races, they must team up to fight an enemy threatening their territory, who may not be the same group they expected.

Even if Captain Marvel is a fun movie to watch, there is nothing in it that makes it exciting, special, or unique.

Captain Marvel was okay. I think the movie is good, but certainly one of the weaker ones in the franchise. It’s the same as all the other Marvel movies. If you are fine with the formula they have set for their movies, and don’t feel that you need a change of pace in this formula, then you’ll likely enjoy this one. I just wish there was some style to this movie, but there unfortunately isn’t. There isn’t even much color in movie, there’s no memorable music, nor does it even really have a very interesting script or commentary.

The movie is mostly just very generic. It tells a simple story, sets up a few conflicts, there’s a quick resolution, and the movie is suddenly over. There’s not even much tension to this movie really. The best way I can describe it is just pure escapism. You’ll be entertained for two and a half hours, but you’ll probably forget about it until you find it on a streaming service of some sort (probably Disney+ by the time that’s ready). This doesn’t make it necessarily bad, it’s competently made, but there’s nothing unique or special about this movie. It’s so generic and by the numbers, I wish there was more to it. When ranking films with a female heroine, I think Wonder Woman and Alita: Battle Angel, both of which came out this year, are superior films. They additionally have much better action sequences as well.

Time to address the elephant in the room when it comes to this movie…

Now I understand there’s some “drama” with this movie and people’s reception to this movie on the internet, and I really didn’t want to get into it that much but I’ll just quickly say that everyone looks stupid fighting over this movie. If you’re claiming that this movie was going to be bad because there is a woman in it, you’re dumb. On the other hand, if you’re going to bully people who think this movie is only okay and call them “man babies” or “sexist” you’re also dumb.

I would advise anyone out there not review bomb a movie to serve any agenda you may have, whether it be “positive” or “negative,” because that will make you and your cause look bad. My thought going in was that I wanted it to just be a good movie. I also acknowledge Brie Larson said some things that got people really angry, and I really don’t want to get into that either. Just know that you commenting on her comments is only giving more publicity to the movie which will encourage people to go watch it. So whether that is your goal or not, acknowledge that you are doing this.

As a side note: I am planning on discussing how to properly engage in discourse with others on the internet because this is a subject I am passionate about and I really just want people just treat others with kindness no matter the opinions they have. What I would say to you for now regarding the internet drama of this movie is this, respect all people and they opinions they have. More importantly, don’t let what others on the internet have to say persuade you into shaping a belief about this movie, whether it’d be positive or negative. See the movie for yourself, and make up your own mind!

So the movie is fine but lacks style, should you still watch it?

With that being said, I don’t feel there is really anything else I can say about this movie. Although entertaining, I just wish the film-making on display was more interesting. I also wish there was more tension in this movie, because that too would have made this much stronger. Even the lack of color within the film bogged this down because this is one dark looking movie. It’s not as bad as Suicide Squad or Solo: a Star Wars Story, but there’s one scene near the end that borders on that quality of lighting and color correction.

For now, though, this is a completely harmless Marvel movie. I believe people will probably love it or hate it more than I did, so I would recommend watching this movie and just making up your own mind. I am very excited for Avengers: Endgame, and will probably continue to watch these movies for years to come. They would have to take a major dive in quality, or just get so tiring and boring to the point of complete exhaustion for me to stop watching these, and thankfully neither has happened yet.

If these movies aren’t for you, that’s fine. But if you find this to be the best Marvel movie though, good for you! I’m glad you could get more enjoyment than I did out of this. I understand I’m late to this party, and the majority of the population has already seen this movie, but I still wanted to give my general thoughts. If you haven’t seen it though and you want to, check it out! It definitely won’t be an infuriating movie to watch, it’ll just be bland. If you don’t care about this being a masterfully made film, you’ll like it fine. Finally, I will admit this: Captain Marvel has the best opening sequence for any Marvel movie! If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

Is How to Train Your Dragon: the Hidden World Worth Your Time?

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ends the long-running trilogy with a fun, wholesome ending.

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World was directed by Dean Belois.  This is the third and seemingly final film in the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy produced by Dreamworks Animation.

If you’ve never heard of this trilogy before, these animated films tell the story of Hiccup (played by Jay Baruchel) and his friends who live with their dragons at Berk.  The first film told of the people of Berk domesticating the dragons after initially hunting them down.  It was about the relationships that these people could develop with these seemingly violent and frightening creatures.   It was a wholesome yet exciting film that would launch arguably Dreamworks’ best franchise to date.  The second film then resumed Hiccup’s journey as he searches for his mother that he believed was dead.  In terms of the whole trilogy, this one reigns supreme as the best one in the series; the film carried the most emotion without losing sight of the larger world the series was trying to build.  Additionally, action scenes in The Hidden World were by far and away some of Dreamworks’ best animation to date.

The newest How to Train Your Dragon film starts off following the events of the second film, with Hiccup’s father now dead and his mother back in his life.  After learning about yet another person who wants to take their dragons and destroy their homes, they realize the possibility of the existence of another world in which the dragons can live in peace away from the rest of society. Hiccup, having assumed the role of chief, decides that it’s a good idea to get not only the people of Berk to safety but more importantly the dragons as well.  Things get more complicated when the main dragon, Toothless, meets another female dragon and develops a relationship with it.  While the gang wonder what the best way to accomplish this goal could be, they begin to consider the possibility of releasing the dragons into the wild.

Although this latest entry in the How to Train Your Dragon series has heart and some touching scene, it’s not perfect.

I would say the scenes whenever the characters considered what life would be like without their dragons are probably the best ones of this film.  I further think this is the emotional highlight of the film when it comes to the way this story is structured.  The other aspect I really liked is of course the animation, but I also don’t really think animated movies are released today without top-notch animation.  These movies have always had really nice animation and this film is no exception.

The biggest flaw with this movie is the pacing.  Despite running for 1hr 44mins, the filmmakers still didn’t have enough time to tell the story they wanted to.  This affected certain elements of the film into feeling rushed, whereas other unnecessary elements felt overly drawn out and exhausting to watch.  The film chooses to spend much of its time showing either the characters quickly interact with the villains, the two leading dragons going on their little dates (which admittedly are very entertaining), or the other side characters being goofy and getting into silly shenanigans.   Many of these moments felt like they were only there in order for the film to force either substance or bad comedy into it.  Although it’s been awhile since I’ve seen the first two How to Train Your Dragon films, but I remember them being pretty funny.  I think that’s why it was surprising to me to see this film and acknowledge that it’s really not that funny.  The humor is mostly very juvenile and meant to cater towards children.  If the humor took a backseat to the drama the characters face this wouldn’t be a big deal, it’s just the fact that jokes are thrown in very often which makes this experience very distracting.

Even though I really liked the animation and I thought the emotions shared between the characters and their dragons were strong, this movie overall is somewhat boring.  Honestly, this is perhaps the weakest movie in this trilogy and the reason for that would be because the film does not have much substance to it.  The supposed feeling of dread that these characters have is never fully related or felt by the audience.  My guess as to why this is the case is likely because they don’t want to make the kids watching this feel uneasy.  And while that is understandable, you can still keep the audience engaged and feeling like the stakes are high while still entertaining the kids.  Good examples of this concept are the first two How to Train Your Dragon films or the Toy Story films, as these films showed managed to be entertaining for both kids and adults.

I will say that the resolution to this film and the ending to the How to Train Your Dragon trilogy is very well done.

When it is time for the climax to come that has been built up for the entire film, it feels mostly underwhelming and it comes in really quickly.  I would say the final fight of this film, although very good, is probably under 10 minutes, which is not usual for one of these movies.  What’s interesting though is that I really like the climax and I think it is my favorite part of the film, it’s just jarring to see it come so quickly is all.  What leads after the fight is really wonderful I will say though.  I won’t give away the resolution of what happens to the dragons and to Hiccup and his friends but I thought that was very satisfying.  I just wish the film had a story with higher stakes so that this ending could feel more earned.

I know I’ve been trashing on this movie a lot, but I really don’t think it’s bad.  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think this film was disappointing, but I acknowledge that these films could be so much worse and more childish.  I think this film has the potential to bore some audience members, but I thought it was fine really.    I am happy I saw where these characters ended up and was able to watch their growth and development.  The main characters all go through incredible arcs that changes who they are and that was very interesting to see as well.  If you want to see how this trilogy ends, I’d say check it out.  I would say my enthusiasm for this film is mostly reserved just because I thought the film was underwhelming more than anything, but I still thought it was perfectly fine.  I would just say expect to possibly be disappointed and acknowledge that the film does feel rushed at times.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part Movie Review

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part: a Delightful, Funny, and Worthy Follow Up to a Game Changing Predecessor!

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was directed by Mike Mitchell (director of Trolls) and penned by Phil Lord and Chris Miller of the first Lego Movie and 2018’s critically acclaimed Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  After The Lego Movie was released in 2014 to critical and financial success, film fans waited in anticipation to see what these Lego movies were going to do next.  Many acknowledged the potential for many different types of stories to be told after that original movie, and what we ended up getting was interesting.  We first had The Lego Batman Movie in 2017, which was generally seen as a really fun and creative film that was self-referential but could also serve as a great animated standalone Batman film.  Then we also got the Lego Ninjago Movie later that year which, admittedly, I still have not seen.  To be fair, however, you probably haven’t either as the film was a financial flop and was mostly forgotten upon its release.  This was likely since it came out the same weekend as the highly anticipated Kingsman: The Golden Circle (which I saw at the time over Ninjago)But now that we have a new Lego Movie which follows up the original, one major question remains…

Is this family adventure as good as the first two outings of the franchise?

The answer to that I would say is mostly yes! The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is very funny, creative, and above all entertaining.  Although, it’s not as good as the first one is, I still really love this one and think it’s an absolute blast that you should see in theaters!  The first aspect that I can rave about here is the incredible animation present.  Done by Animal Logic once again, the animation in this film is lifelike, creative, and incredibly realistic.  Seeing the film in theaters helped give the animation more justice as small details present in the animation really came to life here and likely would not have been noticeable on a standard screen like a phone, tv, or computer screen.  In fact, I would advise you avoid putting on those dark 3D glasses for this one as you’ll want to be able to see the bright screen to notice every detail.  The detail is so incredible that some of the Lego characters have traits in their design like bite marks, tears in their accessories, and even faded designs of clothes on their block bodies that were so much fun to notice.  The character animation as well including the way they move as so fun to watch as not one character is identical in their movements.  Since all these characters possess different designs in their bodies, they all walk differently.  Some walk normally, others hop, and even one character floats and shape shifts.  That character, Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, voiced by Tiffany Haddish, had such fun and creative animation that admittedly must have been very difficult to work with.

But these films are not just good for the style, the substance is good too!  These films have a reputation for being fast, funny, and entertaining and this film does not disappoint.  Phil Lord and Chris Miller are very talented when it comes to writing hilarious and entertaining scripts that leave you watching from the first scene to the final one.  And if you’re wondering what other movies they’ve done besides these two Lego Movies, they’ve also worked on 21 Jump Street22 Jump Street as well as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  They really understand what makes a film entertaining and worth watching, and I truly believe studios should want to hire more people in Hollywood like these guys. It’s a shame then, that we never got to see what they’re creative interpretation of Solo: A Star Wars Story would have been as I’m sure it would have been great compared to what we got instead (a controversial take). However…

I really don’t think this film is as great as I would have liked it to be though.

It feels a little more like The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is simply a fun adventure, rather than a groundbreaking cinematic film like the first one was.  The only reason I’d classify the first one as such is because it showed us that you can make fun and interesting ideas for a film out of any concept no matter how mundane or strange the idea may seem.  It continues the story and the fun traits present in the Lego Movie and when new things are added, they don’t necessarily add to the story or to the enjoyment of the film.  Some things they add that I wasn’t a fan of included musical numbers.  The songs in general for this film were really hit and miss for me.  Some of them were great like “The Catchy Song” which is definitely stuck inside my head as the song promises, and I like the song they played at the end credits and thought it was funny.  However, there were two songs sang by Tiffany Haddish in this film that I did not care for.  These were full blown musical numbers and they were not fun to watch.  They felt somewhat childish and I found myself waiting for them to end in all honesty.  I also didn’t care for the villain.  Without giving too much away, it is not who you expect the villain to be.  And while this person is very funny and the set up is very clever, his backstory doesn’t make sense and it raises more questions about this universe that are never answered.  The revelation of this villain and his backstory also creates more plot holes that makes this universe confusing to me.  If you’ve seen the movie, you likely are aware of what I’m talking about.  I found myself confused with this twist and I suspect the kids who see it will be lost as well.  I understand that this was likely an attempt to expand the universe that they’ve set up, but they instead make it more confusing.

In fact, there were a few jokes here that made this already complex universe more complex.  Without giving too much away, they make a joke in the movie about Batman going on his own stand-alone adventure and they explain he left the other characters for some time for that reason.  I understand this was just a funny joke to make a reference to the fact that there was a Lego Batman movie but this poses a question.  Since all these movies take place inside the imagination of one kid and his Lego set, was the stand-alone Batman film on another individual Lego set that this kid has of Gotham City?  I know this seems insignificant, but this is the type of stuff I left the film asking myself and thinking about.  The film in general too just feels like it’s more oriented towards kids which is disappointing because these films have always have been made for generally older kids and adults.  The jokes are still funny, but quite honestly not as funny as they usually are in these films.

With that being said, I overall really enjoyed this one!  I don’t think it’s as good as the other Lego movies, and I do hope we don’t get too many of these movies at one time and get tired of them, because every time I check out one of these films I always find myself really enjoying them.  The script may not be as funny as the last few were, but the pacing was on point and the film remained consistently entertaining from start to finish.  I am not sure how many more of these we are going to get, so if you want to see this movie and more like it in the future, be sure to go support it in theaters while it’s still out.  And see it quick if you have any interest in it because with the low box office numbers it’s receiving right now, it might not be there for much longer.  It’s not a masterpiece of film like the first film was, but The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is definitely entertaining, and you will likely enjoy it overall.

Written by: Christian Scognamillo