Review: A Star is Re-Born with Brad Pitt’s Stellar Performance in Cosmo-Drama ‘Ad Astra’

For the second time this year, Brad Pitt has delivered a film that shatters audience expectations. Some went into Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood expecting a flashy, vengeful bloodbath. Instead, they received a hazy hang-out film, only slightly blood-spattered. Some will go into James Gray’s  BrAd Astra expecting an action-packed cosmic thriller filled with high-speed moon buggy chases and laser blaster fights. Instead, they’ll receive a languid character study centered on Roy McBride (Pitt), a top-level Sad Astra-naut who desperately needs to go to therapy. 

Rather, McBride’s superiors opt to send him to space on a deeply emotional mission to make contact with his estranged Dad Astra (Tommy Lee Jones), further destabilizing his already shaky mental state. As they explain to him the possibility of his father’s survival, his entire posture almost imperceptibly changes. His eyes twitch with the effort of repressing his true emotions, and his chest rises and falls with a newfound velocity, indicating that his static pulse that famously never goes above 80 bpm is pounding away underneath the polished layers of his military uniform. 

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Under the Influence of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

When Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey first opened in 1968, critics and general audiences were immediately polarized. Upon its premiere, a Variety review boldly stated, “2001: A Space Odyssey is not a cinematic landmark.Others argued that it only broke even at the box office because of the time period’s affinity for dropping acid and lapping up that righteously trippy last 20 minutes.

It is now 50 years later, and 2001 is hailed as one of the most influential films in the history of cinema. Christopher Nolan’s restored 70mm print is making the rounds in the United States, coming to my home state of Oregon. The fervent popularity of the hallucinogenic LSD has been replaced with a proclivity for the psychoactive, and much safer, THC. And that happens to be very, very legal here. In fact, the announcer at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland joked, “Have you all ingested your edibles?” before the screening began (Yes. Yes I had). In short, times have changed.

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The Cinematic Influences of ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’

Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner has always seamlessly incorporated his love for classic cinema into the band’s music — even back in the day when they were singing about drunken nights out in Sheffield. Ennio Morricone, in particular, has been a sort of muse for the songwriter, discernible from the organ sample in 505 which is lifted directly from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and the orchestral flourishes of Turner’s side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But Arctic Monkeys’ newest album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, may be their most overtly cinematic output yet. The record is an ambitious and stunning piece of world-building. The sound — laid-back, Bowie-esque, piano-heavy tunes, reminiscent of jazz lounges and hotel lobbies — is light years away from the catchy guitar hooks that have dominated their oeuvre. Tranquility Base is a giant middle finger to the weighty expectations following the astronomical success of AM; a liberation from being pigeonholed as the saviour of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a sprawling retro sci-fi odyssey that George Lucas could’ve concocted himself — imagine Finn and Rose taking a detour to a casino on the moon instead of Canto Bight and you’ve got the vibe nailed.

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Arctic Monkeys at La Frette Studios, Paris © Zackery Michael

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