Tag Archives: James Gray

James Gray’s Ad Astra

James Gray’s Ad Astra. It’s difficult for me to get my thoughts out on this one while still dodging spoilers but here goes. This was kind of a disappointment for me, not because it’s a particularly weak or mediocre film but rather it was something wholly different from what I was expecting. That too isn’t necessarily a cardinal sin but when your trailers and marketing campaign suggest one thing and your film blatantly does another, that’s a problem. In any case this wasn’t the ‘reach for the stars’ mysterious, ponderous SciFi epic that I got the impression of off the bat, but perhaps that’s just me.

Brad Pitt gives a grounded, meditative, cleared eyed performance as Roy McBride, earth’s most accomplished astronaut save for his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), who has taken up residence somewhere near the rings of Neptune and caused quite a bit of trouble in a decades long campaign to contact extraterrestrial life. So begins Roy’s voyage out past the moon, Mars and towards the edge of our solar system to locate his dad’s research project, put a stop to the havoc it’s causing and set to rest the personal turmoil raging inside him, which is my fancy way of saying considerable daddy issues. There’s many diversions and they’re all handled nicely including an attack from vicious baboons in swooping zero gravity, a politically fuelled mutiny aboard a transport craft and a moon rover chase that feels comfortingly like Mad Max. Others provide supporting talent including Donald Sutherland as his dad’s ex pal hired to babysit part of his journey until that arc is cut disappointingly short. Liv Tyler is wasted on the thankless wife role that has no depth or vibrancy beyond looking worried, while Ruth Negga, Loren Dean and John Ortiz fare better as others he meets along the way.

So where does this falter? There’s a type of science fiction film that expands outward as characters explore their universe and reach for the great unknown while also feeling inward, finding themes of love, relationships and intimacy through something so grand as a journey into space. Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Steven Soderbergh’s Solaris are probably the best example of this. This one ultimately fails at that, or at least going all the way and achieving something as profound as the examples I’ve given. Many elements work, including Pitt’s impressively centred, soulful performance, a beautifully atmospheric original score by Max Richter, stunning visuals and clever world building (somehow the fact that Virgin Atlantic does commercial flights to the moon in the future seems hilariously on point). But there’s an absent nature to the overall arc that can’t be overlooked. It’s sadly ironic that a film whose title translates to ‘To The Stars’ falls so, so far short of actually reaching them. You take this trip with Roy, experience everything he does and just when the penultimate moment approaches and you prepare for some soul nourishing pay off… your grasp closes on emptiness, and what’s worse is that was what Gray was actually intending, in a way. I get what he was going for and appreciate the effort this is the wrong film to pull a stunt like that with. Didn’t work for me overall.

-Nate Hill

Review: Gray’s ‘Lost City of Z’ is a visual feast for the ages.

First featured on The Movie Revue, contributing critic Brian Wallinger and editor Ben Cahlamer sit down to discuss James Gray’s astounding The Lost City of Z.

BEN CAHLAMER:  Brian, thanks for joining me today.

BRIAN WALLINGER:  It’s my pleasure, Ben.

BC:  Is it safe for me to say that you enjoyed Gray’s effort overall?

BW:  Yes.  This 2016 release, based on the 2009 novel is a taught and tense adventure set in the jungles of Brazil.  All throughout the film lays an undiscovered land where danger lurks around every corner.

BC:  I too found the story telling to be riveting and adventuresome, filled with stunning locations and brilliant technical achievements.  I especially liked the acting in the film.

BW:  Both Charlie Hunnam and Robert Patinson are the true stars of the film, executing clear and sharp performances.

BC:  Hunnam as Percey Fawcett, British officer-turned-explorer and Patinson as Henry Costin were stunning, especially Patinson, who just completely immersed himself in his role.  Hunnam has a commanding presence about him, but Gray kept him in check.  Both performances are extremely strong.  They are complimented by several smaller roles featuring Ian McDiarmid of Star Wars fame, Franco Nero, Angus Macfayden, who has been nothing short of brilliant in both John Wick films, Sienna Miller who plays Nina Fawcett, Percey’s faithful wife,  and Tom Holland as Jack Fawcett. What did you think of Gray’s directorial efforts?

BW:  The direction proves that Gray is not yet a truly masterful film maker, but he surely is on the path to greatness.  The film has an uneven balance in its run time and with the overall script.

BC:  I confess to not having seeing his previous directorial efforts, but I found his direction here to be top notch, especially for something that is so reflective of glorious epic adventure films and characters of the past, such as The Bridge on the River Kwai or even, Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I didn’t have an issue with the run time, and as a matter of fact, I found it to be necessary to tell the full story.  John Axelrod’s editing kept the film’s pacing even. I felt as if I was watching a younger version of Indiana Jones thanks to Hunnam’s acting, Gray’s direction and his screenplay, based on David Grann’s novel of the same name….

BW: …The story is based on actual events depicting several attempts at an expedition ultimately leading to an unsolved mystery.

BC:  Yes, indeed.  It was David Grann’s debut novel, based on his 2005 visit to the Kalapalo Tribe that set the stage for his novel and this film effort.  The level of detail in all of the characters is a combination of the entire production’s efforts.

BW:  You have hit the nail on the head, Ben.  There is a unique style and theme that pays homage to classic adventure films you mentioned: a form that has since gone unnoticed, yet through this film, finds a breath of new life.  I found the cinematography to be visually stunning, providing a sincere essence of the peril the characters faced.

BC:  YES!  Academy Award-winning Darius Khondji’s work here is astounding, and is a hallmark of this film.  His use of shadows and light are simply stunning.  I recently watched Fincher’s Se7en on a cinema screen and fell in love with Khondji’s work there too.  He is just a magician with light in any setting and I’m looking forward to seeing his work on the upcoming Okja.

BC:  Any other thoughts, Brian?

BW:  The film has several minor technical flaws but is so much fun and sincere to its convictions that I can forgive them.  I’m Recommending The Lost City of Z.

BC:  This film was stuck in development hell for a very long time at Paramount.  I’m really glad that it got picked up by Amazon and Bleecker Street.  Although its box office was not very strong, word-of-mouth should propel this film into the minds of many moviegoers.  I also am Recommending this film. Thank you for joining me today, Brian.

BW:  Thank you, Ben.