Saturday, December 07, 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

I first saw 2001 A Space Odyssey with my father at the ABC Shaftesbury Avenue a decade after it was first released. My 11-year-old mind was intermittently perplexed, but I don't recall thinking ‘How completely silly is this?' every five minutes or so. 

Nor indeed 'What this really needs is a bit of Mad Max with lunar rovers’ or ‘I wish those apes would stop throwing bones around and start devouring astronauts'.

Kubrick's film is one of those ‘philosophical' sci-fi yarns that retains the power to thrill and existentially disturb up to and beyond the 'near future’ it projects into. Here in Ad Astra Brad Pitt clearly thinks he's in another such landmark and his ponderous voiceovers gradually start to deliver an element of unintended comedy, as if from within a rather poor Terence Malick parody. 

Director James Gray must also want it to be that movie, yet he’s also desirous of delivering episodic reminders of others, such as Alien, or Total Recall, so the overall effect is Profound Sci-Fi Lite. 

Yet it definitely looks and sounds like the premium product, as he has taken on Interstellar’s cinematographer Hoyte van Hoyterna and had an ominous score done by Max Richter. (Though there were seemingly no actual scientific experts involved, as they may all have been off somewhere complaining about Brexit or the weather.) 

Meanwhile, the obvious literary reference is to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, yet again in severely diluted form, as the horror, the horror ultimately turns out to be a possible misreading of our cosmic predicament, an error of perspective, of the kind fathers are occasionally wont to have.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Earthquake Bird (2019)

This would have been little more than a run-of-the-mill, slightly disappointing, mystery-thriller but for two factors - the albeit under-used (and perhaps even a bit misappropriated) backdrop of late 80s Japan and another utterly compelling performance by Alicia Vikander. 

She, along with Riley Keough is a little let down by the screenplay (though not as badly as a pair of Tokyo detectives), yet it is what they both do with the gaps between words that is so impressive. As Teiji, Naoki Kobayashi is taciturn, yet still gets some of the movie's better lines.

The novel was 'critically acclaimed' and I find myself now rather drawn to it. Ridley Scott has some form with picking up top notch genre fiction for his production company and then handing the texts over to directors who squander the opportunity to some extent. (Viz Child 44.) 

The titular birdy is a narrative irrelevance in this adaptation.