'Ad Astra'

Brad Pitt in a scene from “Ad Astra.”

AD ASTRA

Brad Pitt is having a very good year. Earlier in 2019 he wowed audiences as an easy-going stunt double in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” and now, in the literally light years away sci-fi epic adventure “Ad Astra,” he gives another compelling performance as the introspective Roy McBride, a dedicated astronaut who is sent on an highly problematic mission. Liv Tyler portrays Roy’s estranged wife Eve (Liv Tyler).

The movie’s co-screenwriter and director James Gray stated that it was his desire to feature “the world’s most realistic depiction of space travel that’s ever been put in a movie.” With last year’s “First Man” coming in a close second, Gray successfully achieves his goal.

The superior “Ad Astra” or “To the Stars” presents a realistic future when interstellar travel has become the norm, at least for those who can pay for a commercial flight to the populated Moon.

But in order to complete his top secret mission which relates to his father Clifford McBride’s (Tommy Lee Jones) space exploration  29 years earlier, Roy has to travel billions of miles, past the Moon and Mars and then all the way to Neptune. Roy’s superiors have entrusted him with orders to find a way to end the strange flares that threaten to destroy not only the Earth but also the entire Solar System.

The film erupts with excitement during the lengthy mission. A skirmish with a group of thieves is expected but harrowing. Once in space, Roy and another astronaut discover horrific peril when they board a mysterious craft which had signaled “Mayday.”

The movie’s worst fault would have to be the irritating voiceover.

Besides Pitt, kudos belong to Donald Sutherland as an elderly astronaut and to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Rated PG-13  3 Stars

 

DOWNTON ABBEY

“Blimey!”

“The King and Queen are coming to Downton!”

Fans of Julian Fellowes’ long-running British television series “Downton Abbey” have a treat in store with the debut of the big screen version of the continuing and absorbing stories of the upstairs and downstairs folks who live and work at the magnificent stately home belonging to Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham (Hugh Bonneville). Also in residence are his wife Cora (Elizabeth McGovern), his grandchildren, his widowed son-in-law Tom Branson (Allen Leech) and his daughter Lady Mary Talbot (Michelle Dockery), who actually runs the estate. Living nearby is Robert Crawley’s mum, the incomparable acid-tongued Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith). Among the cast is sparkling newcomer Tuppence Middleton, who portrays Lucy Smith.

When word reaches the abbey that Queen Mary (Geraldine James) and King George V (Simon Jones) will come for an official visit, the Crawleys remain pleased but nervous. The servants set about making the vast estate welcoming. While Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) states her reverence for the royals, Daisy (Sophie McShera) is the only servant who remains unimpressed

Lady Mary coaxes retired butler Carter Carson (Jim Carter) to take over many of the duties of butler Thomas Barrow (Robert James-Collier) during the king’s visit. Penelope Wilton, Joanne Froggatt, Brendan Coyle, Kevin Doyle and Phyllis Logan reprise their roles.

The film offers a lovely escape to that lavish long-ago world with the mostly affable aristocrats and their loyal domestic staff. John Lunn’s haunting Emmy-winning theme music and Ben Smithard’s stunning cinematography enhance the transition to the silver screen.  

  Rated PG  3 Stars

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