Talking Movies

September 22, 2019

Notes on Ad Astra

Brad Pitt’s sci-fi Ad Astra was the film of the week much earlier today on Sunday Breakfast with Patrick Doyle.

Pitt is Roy McBridge, son of legendary lost astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy is renowned for having a preternaturally low pulse rate, never above 80, even in a crisis; such as at the start where he falls to earth off an atmosphere-scraping antennae following ‘The Surge’. He simply waits to stop spinning, thendeploys his parachute; no point getting het up about it. The Surge killed 43,000 people but, it transpires, is only the beginning. It was caused by a wave of anti-matter attacking the planet as it courses across the solar system, growing in power as it travels from its origin off Neptune. Which as John Finn and John Ortiz’s brass inform Roy is where Project Lima is, and where they believe Clifford is alive and well and liable to end all life unless dissuaded by Roy.

It’s a minor miracle that neither Finn nor Ortiz instructs Roy to terminate Clifford’s command, with extreme prejudice. Because this is a film in thrall to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad; Clifford’s out there operating without any decent restraint, and the journey to save or end him will be psychological as much as physical. Donald Sutherland’s mentor Colonel Pruitt and Ruth Negga’s enigmatic Martian pop up for an allotted span of time much like characters in Apocalypse Now, as Roy travels from vignette to vignette on his quest. There’s an unlikely action sequence on the surface of the Moon as this dystopian future paints the orb wracked by conflict between competing miners and pirates preying on their divisions. A tense sequence responding to an SOS while en route to Mars might as well proclaim “Never get out of the boat”.

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September 16, 2019

Ad Astra

Brad Pitt follows his comeback turn in Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood with another stoic and very capable character housed in a curate’s egg.

Pitt is Roy McBridge, son of legendary lost astronaut Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones). Roy is renowned for having a preternaturally low pulse rate, never above 80, even in a crisis; such as at the start where he falls to earth off an atmosphere-scraping antennae following ‘The Surge’. He simply waits to stop spinning, then deploys his parachute; no point getting het up about it. The Surge killed 43,000 people but, it transpires, is only the beginning. It was caused by a wave of anti-matter attacking the planet as it courses across the solar system, growing in power as it travels from its origin off Neptune. Which as John Finn and John Ortiz’s brass inform Roy is where Project Lima is, and where they believe Clifford is alive and well and liable to end all life unless dissuaded by Roy.

It’s a minor miracle that neither Finn nor Ortiz instructs Roy to terminate Clifford’s command, with extreme prejudice. Because this is a film in thrall to Apocalypse Now and Joseph Conrad; Clifford’s out there operating without any decent restraint, and the journey to save or end him will be psychological as much as physical. Donald Sutherland’s mentor Colonel Pruitt and Ruth Negga’s enigmatic Martian pop up for an allotted span of time much like characters in Apocalypse Now, as Roy travels from vignette to vignette on his quest. There’s an unlikely action sequence on the surface of the Moon as this dystopian future paints the orb wracked by conflict between competing miners and pirates preying on their divisions. A tense sequence responding to an SOS while en route to Mars might as well proclaim “Never get out of the boat”.

But as Roy suffers thru regret for his failed marriage to Liv Tyler and resentment at his father, the Conradian nature of things unravels. Director and co-writer James Gray splices in flashback imagery to show Roy hallucinating, but Ad Astra never gets hallucinatory. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema may be onboard but there is nothing as trippy as Interstellar’s closing chapter even as we orbit Neptune, while Max Richter’s music makes less of an impact here than a sampling of his work on Arrival. Tyler and Jones are unsatisfactorily used, and the pay-off for everything in character terms is as unsatisfying as the emotionally false moment with the medallion at the end of Super 8. Pitt is on good form, but Gray has delivered a film whose excellent special effects belie a preponderance of pomposity over actual insight or a point.

Ad Astra is engaging, but not nearly as intelligent as it so clearly believes itself to be and, as Hunter S Thompson would lament, it never gets weird enough.

3/5

January 24, 2017

ADIFF: Oscar movies

The Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017 offers the first chance for Irish audiences to see five of the films nominated for Academy Awards earlier today.
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Best Animated Feature Film nominees The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette will screen as part of the ADIFF Fantastic Flix children’s and young people’s strand, while Best Documentary Feature nominee I Am Not Your Negro and Best Foreign Language nominees Tanna and The Salesman feature as part of the main ADIFF programme. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that I Am Not Your Negro and The Salesman were featured in Talking Movies’ 17 films to watch at ADIFF when the programme was announced last week. Elsewhere Irish actress Ruth Negga was nominated for Loving, ADIFF Volta Award-winning Irish costume designer Consolata Boyle, was given a nod for Best Costume Design for Florence Foster Jenkins; and two films from last year’s ADIFF programme, Zootopia and Land of Mine, were also shortlisted.

The Red Turtle –Fantastic Flix’s Opening Film
A man is shipwrecked on a beautiful island devoid of humans and must make the most of what he has to survive. Watched on by a group of sand crabs, he attempts to escape but is thwarted by the weather and a red turtle with a vendetta. Then an unexpected visitor arrives who will alter the man’s fate for all time.

10th Feb, 6.30pm at Omniplex Rathmines.

My Life as a Courgette
After his mother’s sudden death, Courgette is befriended by a kind police officer Raymond, who accompanies him to his new foster home filled with other orphans his age. At first, Courgette struggles to find his place in this strange, at times, hostile environment. Yet with Raymond’s help and his newfound friends, he eventually learns to trust, finds true love and at last a new family of his own.
17th Feb 2017 11.50am at Omniplex Rathmines.

I Am Not Your Negro
Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, and with unprecedented access to James Baldwin’s original work,  Raoul Peck has completed the cinematic version of the book Baldwin never wrote – a radical narration about race in America that tracks the lives and assassinations of Baldwin’s friends, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Whilst partly anchored in the struggle for equality in the ’50s and ’60s, I Am Not Your Negro sees Peck extrapolate from Baldwin’s actual work to make his own statements about what it means to be black in America today.

Tuesday 21st February, 8:45pm at the Light House Cinema

Tanna
Tanna is a captivating romance set amongst the Yakel people of Vanuatu and is the first feature film shot completely on that island. Based on real events, and written in collaboration with the cast (all non-professionals), the film tells the story of Wawa and Dain, a young couple in love who must go on the run to escape Wawa’s arranged marriage to an enemy tribe.

Sunday 26th Feb 2017, 2 pm at the Light House Cinema

The Salesman
After making his previous film (The Past) in France, Asghar Farhadi (A SeparationAbout Elly) returns to his native Tehran for this story about a couple forced out of their apartment due to dangerous works on a neighbour’s building. Emad and Rana move into a new flat in the centre of Tehran, where an incident linked to the previous tenant will dramatically change the young couple’s life. Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman plays an unexpected part in proceedings, as the nature of honour and violence are explored in typically metaphorical Iranian style.
Friday 17th Feb, 6.15pm. Cineworld

Tickets for the 2017 programme are available to buy online at diff.ie, in person at DIFF House & Box Office, 13 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1 or by phoning 01 6877974.

September 18, 2014

Noble

Stand-up Deirdre O’Kane tackles a weighty dramatic role as humanitarian Christina Noble in this biopic set in Ireland and Vietnam.

NOBLE

Noble (O’Kane) arrives in Vietnam in 1989, on a mission from God – more or less. She had a dream about Vietnam and travelled there, quickly discovering that her calling is to make a difference in the lives of the buidoi, the despised street children. Flashbacks (with Gloria Cramer Curtis and Sarah Greene as the younger Noble) draw the parallel between her tenement childhood and institutionalised teenage years, and the plight of the Vietnamese children she takes under her wing. In Vietnam she attempts to cajole Irish and English businessmen Gerry Shaw (Brendan Coyle) and David Somers (Mark Huberman) into financing building works at the neglected orphanage run by Madame Linh (Nhu Quynh Nguyen). But as her experience with abusive husband Mario Pistola (David Mumeni) has taught her, charm can hide callous cruelty – and figures of authority everywhere disdain their buidoi.

Cinematographer Trevor Forrest’s location work in Saigon is fantastic, with familiar imagery of vegetation floating downriver right next to the modernising city of the Western businessman. Noble is also lit up by many great performances. Ruth Negga is winning as Joan, the best friend of Greene’s teenage Christine. Greene, a Talking Movies favourite for her great theatre work, has a meaty cinematic part here and renders Christina a punchy survivor. Sadly the great Karl Shiels is wasted in as cipherish a cameo as his Peaky Blinders role. This is doubly disappointing because Coyle and Huberman offer wonderfully nuanced turns, and Liam Cunningham as Christina’s drunken father is gloriously ambiguous. However, Cunningham’s self-mythologising father who veers between love and rage is a figure out of O’Casey; which draws attention to Christina Casali’s 1950s Dublin design seeming more suited to 1920s Dublin.

That design even drags us into Angela’s Ashes territory, because everything that can go wrong for Christina does go wrong. Even though it’s based on a true story you feel like writer/director Stephen Bradley’s script is hewing to established clichés of the misery memoir. And there are other problems: Christina’s constant recourse to charming singing feels forced, the practicalities of her living rough in the Phoenix Park and later gaining access to Vietnam are left unaddressed, and even her impassioned rant to God in a church recalls The West Wing. Quite worryingly, following Philomena’s unlovely lead, Bradley seems to deploy pre-Vatican II religious garb as a simplistic visual signifier of presumptive evil. Eva Birthistle’s nun is to be treated as a boo-hiss pantomime villain from her first appearance in a wimple; a veritable judas-goat for judicial, political and familial villains.

Noble has a number of committed performances, but the script doesn’t do them justice; it is too on the nose when it could have used more subtlety and humour in depicting Noble’s extraordinary efforts.

2.75/5

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