Daddy Issues in Space

Brad Pitt, looking weary in Ad Astra

It’s been awhile seen we’ve seen Brad Pitt on the big screen and then, like an unexpected gift, he’s starring in two major films. There has been Oscar buzz about his hyper-masculine stunt man, Cliff Booth in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. Pitt’s character has a laid-back vibe and his charm and beauty still burn bright. He and co-star, Leonardo DiCaprio have a great chemistry together. When his character takes off his shirt to fix a rooftop tv antenna, it calls to mind his first major role as the charming thief and one-night stand for Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise.

Brad Pitt showing good form in Thelma & Louise

In contrast to the his role in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, Brad Pitt is the astronaut Roy McBride in Ad Astra. Once again playing a hyper-masculine character but in this role, we see the toll his career following in his father’s footsteps has taken on family life. Estranged from his partner, presenting a cool facade and barely registering a heart beat…this character is starting to question the orders bestowed on him by the military complex.

Ad Astra, directed, co-written and produced by ‎James Gray is a meditation on the father/son relationship. This intimate film is science fiction that treats a spacesuit-clad traveler hopping a spaceship to the moon like it’s a daily commute. He might as well be wearing a suit and tie…and indeed in one scene, Brad Pitt’s character is carrying what looks like a briefcase. Roy McBride may be living in our distant future but he’s traveling across space dealing with similar 20th century problems: an unsuccessful romantic relationship, a stressful career and a distant father. That father is played by ‎Tommy Lee Jones and he’s floating around Neptune and may be responsible for earth-shattering power surges. This makes McBride’s mission to reunite with his father a rather urgent affair.

There are beautiful space interludes and the race across the moon is a tense and exciting scene. Occasionally obscured by their fishbowl helmets, who is shooting at whom can be difficult to discern. But beyond a few confrontations in space and the novel mode of travel, Ad Astra is a contemplative film that could be set anywhere. Brad Pitt communicates the inner monologue of our conflicted astronaut with reserve; he seems weighed down by his mission and his angst. As he makes his journey, his companions fall away. Donald Sutherland, once a trusted comrade of his father’s, suffers more than a change of heart. Some are killed by pirates; some by McBride himself. He’s alone to face his father issues and eventually, his father.

The first half of the film is driven by the urgency to complete this mission and the need to make contact with the space station McBride’s father commands. Whether this is a rescue mission or an assassination is the final mystery. There are women in the film: Liv Tyler as the abandoned love interest and ‎Ruth Negga‘s Administrator — who provides McBride with crucial information but isn’t even given a name. They provide warmth and emotion and are sorely missed when not on the screen. Our conflicted hero must travel to the moon and then to Neptune and yet, once his mission is complete, his journey seems to skip through time and space as he hurtles back to earth.

Ad Astra ends on a triumphant note and it’s good to see films that are dealing, even in oblique ways, with our fears about Climate Change. What’s missing in the film is a deeper connection to our closed-off astronaut. His issues with his father are like our issues with the planet, they seem too big to overcome. Brad Pitt may be opening up the conversation about what it means to be a man, a father and a lover but it’s difficult to separate his roles from his public falling out with Angelina Jolie. In his movie roles, he seems to be exploring how to navigate his public and private personas.

Drinks with Films Rating: 2 International Space Station squeeze bottles of H2O (out of 5)

Once Upon a Time in…Tarantino-land

Quentin Tarantino has a recognizable filmmaking style. A Tarantino film is sure to feature certain actors that he works with regularly like Kirk Douglas or Michael Madsen, quirky conversations in cars, a cool retro setting and violence…lots of graphic violence. Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood has all of that and a talented cast. The story centers around a well-known television actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), who’s career in Westerns is coming to an end and his sidekick and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The setting is 1969 Hollywood in the months leading up to the Manson Family Murders and the scenario is the interactions the two have with each other and with the people they come in contact with — day-to-day life for a television actor and his aide-de-camp.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt have a wonderful chemistry. Watching DiCaprio struggling to give an honest performance that impresses his young co-star walks the line between exaggerated and comical to genuinely moving. Brad Pitt is the straight man to DiCaprio’s emotional artist. This is the first film that I’ve seen that lets the actor look his age with close-ups of the lines on his face. He still looks fantastic with his shirt off and Pitt exudes an easy charm and warmth that’s sexy.

In his ninth film, Tarantino has finally let his foot fetish out to dance. Each character is introduced through their footwear. Rick Dalton confident in cowboy boots, Cliff Booth in moccasins, our young starlet Sharon Tate skips into the scene in white gogo boots and there are lots of bare feet for our hippy girls. It’s a quick way to establish the characters. Of course the actress would wear fashionable footwear and Pitt’s stunt double, who’s so chill and secure in his masculinity, can rock moccasins…but it seems out of character for Margot Robbie’s character to take off her boots and have bare feet in a movie theater. And maybe the young hippy chick, played by the luminous Margaret Qualley, would remove her sandals and prop her feet up on the dashboard of the car but it looks awkward and lasts too long in the shot.

There is a tension to the story as the characters go about their lives when the audience anticipates the horrific murders that will shatter their world. Tarantino plays with this tension having Kirk Douglas narrate the timeline on the night of the killings. But first there’s a lots of conversations and driving in cars and a trip to Italy and a new wife…some of it interesting, much of it feels like an excuse for Tarantino to get to create fake movie posters. Having established Sharon Tate as this lovely young woman, now pregnant, and her hip friends hanging out at their home, the tragedy of lost lives will be even greater. Tarantino plays with expectations and then delivers on the graphic violence he’s known for.

You can almost feel Tarantino’s glee at shooting an extended scene of young people being killed in such gruesome manner: close-ups of a dog crunching down on an arm, the dog dragging a body across the floor, a young woman getting her face smashed repeatedly into multiple surfaces and the grand finale of the flame thrower used to torch a still twitching murderous woman. For Tarantino fans, I think the violence is so over-the-top and gratuitous that it becomes comical. As someone who finds violence, especially against women and children, very upsetting — this was torture for me to watch.

If you’re a Tarantino fan, the two-hour running time will be just perfect. You can enjoy his imaginative camera moves and recreation of that time period with cameos by some talented actors. There are brilliant bits of dialogue and lots of cool cars to enjoy. If you’re squeamish over the violence, may I suggest you leave in the long set-up for the killers to make it up the driveway? You’ll have plenty of time to wander the lobby and return for a brief touching moment between Pitt and DiCaprio…and you won’t have to endure the brain scar from the violence.

Drinks with Films Rating: 2 blended margaritas served in retro margarita glasses (out of 5)