In case you were wondering, Ad Astra is Latin for “to the stars”. Take a blender and pour in Apocalypse Now, Gravity, Interstellar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and bits of The Martian, and you have this eye-popping space adventure starring Brad Pitt as a futuristic astronaut sent on a top secret mission he’d rather not go on.
Major Roy McBride (Pitt) is one cool cat; nothing upsets or bothers this guy. Whether falling to his certain doom from the International Space Antennae or dealing with terrorists on the Moon, this guy always remains calm. He’s also a legacy in the space biz as his daddy, H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), was a pioneer in space exploration, last being seen somewhere around Neptune searching for extraterrestrials. However, something’s gone terribly wrong. Roy has learned that all the mysterious lightning storms on Earth (and around the Solar System) may have been caused by some weird energy surge from Neptune… and his father could be behind it all!
Fearing Clifford has gone bonkers, Roy is asked to go to Mars to try and communicate with pops and stop whatever it is he’s doing. Roy, narrating most of his journeys and inner thoughts (like Lt. Willard did in Apocalypse Now), faces a daunting task ahead of him as alot of this top secret mission is being hidden from him. And this guy is like a walking disaster; everywhere he goes, something bad happens! Whether he’s on the Moon waiting for a flight to Mars, stopping to investigate a distress call in space, or when he’s on Mars trying to glean information about his dad’s iffy Lima Project, this guy walks straight into trouble.
But, despite all the long, long trials and tribulations, Roy perseveres to finds answers to his questions. Is dad still alive? Is he behind the surges that threaten the galaxy? And, am I getting frequent flyer miles for all of this space travel, ’cause it’s alot! Director James Gray (The Immigrant) co-wrote this, along with newbie Ethan Ross (the Fringe TV series) and, you can plainly see, this movie wants to impress the hell out of you. From the opening dramatic shot of the space antennae (which is awesomely impressive and ridiculous at the same time), you know you’re in for two hours of NASA porn eye candy.
Oh sure, you’re looking at some of the best CGI rendered space stuff around, but Roy’s story of the discovery of himself is about as dull and interesting as a leftover ham sandwich. The tedious and long-winded story just lays there waiting for something, anything to give it a kick in the rockets. There was SO much room for some major plot complications, twists & turns, and amping up the excitement level, that the writers missed some golden opportunities. Yes, there were minor flashes of exhilaration here and there, but not enough to sustain the boring stretches of Roy’s meandering thoughts and narrative that went nowhere.
Aside from the gaping plot holes and the questionable science reality (can an animal really survive in zero gravity?) the acting seems wooden. Pitt plays Roy like an android here; emotionless, exacting, and just wanting to get the job done. It would have been cool if, by the end of the movie, he really WAS an android! Y’see! A golden opportunity wasted! Donald Sutherland fairs better in his brief cameo as Col. Priutt and Ruth Negga as Mars worker Helen Lantos lends credibility. This reminds me of Interstellar; a great looking film that had a dull and lackluster plot to it.
Apocalypse Now (1979)
What can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Undoubtedly, the masterstroke of director Francis Ford Coppola and writer John Milius, this movie has gone down in history as one of THE most talked about and re-screened movies with multiple versions, edits, and various directors cuts.
It’s the height of the Vietnam War and U.S. Army Special Forces Col. Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando in his most memorable, yet smaller roles) has apparently gone bat-spit crazy somewhere inside Cambodia. He’s commanding the local troops there (who worship him like a demi-god) which makes Col. Lucas (Harrison Ford) and Gen. Corman (G.D. Spradlin) very nervous. This nutcase could do anything, so they decide to “terminate with extreme prejudice” Col. Kurtz, giving the job to Capt. Benjamin L. Willard (Martin Sheen).
Hopping aboard a small, fast, Navy river boat, Willard joins a motley crew of rabble-rousers: Chief Petty Officer George Phillips (Albert Hall), 3rd Class Lance B. Johnson (Sam Bottoms), 3rd Class Jay “Chef” Hicks (Fredric Forrest), and 17-year-old Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class Tyrone “Mr. Clean” Miller (Laurence Fishburne–who was only 14-years-old at the time!!). As they journey upriver, they meet Lt. Col Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), who “loves the smell of napalm in the morning” and surfing. Oh, and wiping out a bunch of villagers, too.
Depending on what version you see (and there are several), you could see several things that Willard and his crew sees on the way upriver. There’s a river attack by local natives and one very pissed-off tiger, a long and drawn-out dining experience at a wealthy Frenchman’s rubber plantation, a USO show with scantily clad Playboy Playmates that goes terribly wrong, an abandoned river raft floating downstream that has monkeys onboard… along with a mutilated corpse, and an extended surfing scene. Not to mention the actual footage of Martin Sheen having a real-life heart attack on camera that was left in the movie ’cause it looked good!
Anyway, Willard & his surviving crew arrive at Kurtz’s outpost, and are met by a whacked-out American freelance photojournalist (Dennis Hopper), who has succumbed to the madness. Willard is subdued, bound, and brought before Kurtz in a darkened temple and tortured for several days. But when Willard is released and allowed to freely roam the compound, he attacks Kurtz with a machete. Mortally wounded, Kurtz utters “.. .the horror… the horror” and dies. Everyone in the compound sees Willard departing and bows down to him. Wow!
You just don’t watch this movie, you experience it. Whether it’s the 2 hour version or the extended 3 hour version, this movie is so many things on so many levels. Some fun facts: On the beach where Willard is looking for Kilgore, look for the TV news crew filming the beach combat. That’s Coppola shouting, “Don’t look at the camera, keep on fighting!” In fact, Coppola’s own cinematographer, Vittorio Storaro, plays the cameraman by Coppola’s side! Also, blink and you’ll miss the late R. Lee Ermey as a helicopter pilot. Ermey would later go on to star in Kubrick’s amazing Full Metal Jacket as the drill sergeant.