Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

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Roscoe
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#26 Post by Roscoe » Wed Jun 05, 2019 1:48 pm

If the movie's as schlocky as the trailer, it'll almost certainly clean up at the Oscars.

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The Narrator Returns
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#27 Post by The Narrator Returns » Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:03 pm

Whoa, calling Oscar movies schlock? I hope you're not in school at the moment, 'cause you're clearly too cool for it.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#28 Post by Roscoe » Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:19 pm

Whoa, defending schlocky Oscar bait trailers? I hope you're in school at the moment, 'cause you're clearly not too cool for it.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#29 Post by DarkImbecile » Wed Jun 05, 2019 2:29 pm

Image

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Roscoe
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#30 Post by Roscoe » Wed Jun 05, 2019 6:22 pm

And now come the Seth Meyers memes. I'm out of here before the Seth MacFarlane memes start....

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Persona
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#31 Post by Persona » Wed Jun 05, 2019 10:14 pm

I think there could be a pretty cool movie behind that trailer but that trailer makes it hard to tell as it seems like it was put together by a Facebook algorithm that just snatched whatever available piece of exposition from the first half of the movie and then slapped together some action imagery from the back-end with very generic trailer music throughout. Doesn't help that Pitt comes off very flat, but performances in James Gray films are usually not great material for super brief clips as he tends to have his actors lean towards understated more than is typical for the types of movies he makes.

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Big Ben
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#32 Post by Big Ben » Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:17 pm

What an oddly vague trailer! I'm more interested if it'll keep up this mystery shtick and will be working as a thriller. Excited to see it though.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#33 Post by DarkImbecile » Thu Jul 18, 2019 10:34 am


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Oedipax
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#34 Post by Oedipax » Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:36 pm

Well that's a big improvement over the first trailer.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#35 Post by ford » Thu Jul 18, 2019 1:51 pm

Oedipax wrote:
Thu Jul 18, 2019 12:36 pm
Well that's a big improvement over the first trailer.
My thoughts exactly. I'm really pulling for James Gray.

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Finch
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#36 Post by Finch » Thu Jul 18, 2019 5:36 pm

That seems to capture Gray's style much better, and a fantastic shot to open on.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#37 Post by Persona » Thu Jul 18, 2019 9:34 pm

Definitely a better trailer. The pacing and music seemed far more appropriate for a Gray film.

Still not sure about the story/writing but if nothing else I'm excited to see Gray doing this type of a movie.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#38 Post by ivuernis » Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:20 am


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Finch
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#39 Post by Finch » Wed Aug 28, 2019 3:47 pm


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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#40 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Aug 29, 2019 2:30 pm

This seems to be quite polarizing, though some of the praise I've seen is more encouraging than the dissension (same old "this movie is boring!" stuff) is discouraging - namely, one filmmaker calling it this year's mother! and another Venice impression saying it's "the space movie Malick never made" - not even sure how those two impressions could be about the same film, but I'm excited to find out for myself if it's possible.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#41 Post by Never Cursed » Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:05 pm

I intermittently liked this and found it rather annoying. Brad Pitt's performance is great, probably the best thing about the film (though his mannerisms and kooky narration reminded me a bit too much of Mile 22's "autistic murder patriot" protagonist) and the film is no doubt entertaining and somewhat interesting in its speculative fiction details, but with all that comes a strange emotional distance that I found off-putting. I thought the movie's basic message
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(mankind is alone in existence both individually and as a species, and man's works and advances have only exacerbated that loneliness)
was obvious and tired even before I got to the shots of Brad Pitt Lookin' Sad in the Martian "comfort room" with huge projections of Planet Earth excerpts. One gradually realizes that all the impressive visual effects paired with the muted and alienated attitudes of the characters really serve no purpose beyond advancing this basic Tarkovsky-lite ontological thesis (to add another comparison to the heap). I don't find this stuff particularly compelling even when someone as disciplined and literate as Tarkovsky tackles it, and this is too busy with scenes of Brad Pitt fighting rabid baboons in zero-g or surfing the rings of Neptune (both of these actually happen) to add anything new to this look at isolation and technological advancement. I could very easily see someone with more patience for this type of filmmaking getting a lot more out of this than I did, but I took Ad Astra to basically be Gravity/Interstellar for film bros, what with its distinctive downbeat aesthetic, dark philosophical questions, and undercurrent of repressed masculine anger.

Oh, and one thing that I didn't quite understand about the mission Pitt undertakes:
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Namely, why did Pitt even need to go to Mars in the first place? Of course he has to go there to steal the ship to get to Neptune and confront his father, sure, but there is no logistical reason to for the military to bring him to Mars for the purpose of recording a voice message. Just have him record a message on Earth, send it to Mars, then beam it to Neptune. This is only made more frustrating by Donald Sutherland's continuous reminders that SpaceCom doesn't trust Brad Pitt - if you don't trust him, go for the option which keeps him from interfering with the mission.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#42 Post by DarkImbecile » Fri Sep 20, 2019 7:20 pm

Never Cursed wrote:
Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:05 pm
...though his mannerisms and kooky narration reminded me a bit too much of Mile 22's "autistic murder patriot" protagonist)
Man, I had really wanted to see this, and now I’ve got to have this association in my head?

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#43 Post by Ribs » Fri Sep 20, 2019 9:32 pm

Brad Pitt’s character was written and performed to be autistic but nothing explicitly saying this remains in the final film.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#44 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Sep 21, 2019 12:29 am

I’ll echo Never Cursed’s thoughts on the film not really working and most of the thematic analysis, though I think it’s a bit more complicated of a work in its intended composition than what actually sifts through to the audience. It may be an odd comparison but I couldn’t stop thinking of The Limits of Control throughout my screening, mainly that Gray seems to be deliberately constructing expected beats of an ‘existential space film’ (the ones for ‘film bros’ I suppose) only to continuously subvert the desired effects through deconstruction and apathy to match Pitt’s affect.
Never Cursed wrote:
Fri Sep 20, 2019 3:05 pm
Oh, and one thing that I didn't quite understand about the mission Pitt undertakes:
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Namely, why did Pitt even need to go to Mars in the first place? Of course he has to go there to steal the ship to get to Neptune and confront his father, sure, but there is no logistical reason to for the military to bring him to Mars for the purpose of recording a voice message. Just have him record a message on Earth, send it to Mars, then beam it to Neptune. This is only made more frustrating by Donald Sutherland's continuous reminders that SpaceCom doesn't trust Brad Pitt - if you don't trust him, go for the option which keeps him from interfering with the mission.
I don’t think the film works at all if not taken completely as a metaphor (and even then it doesn’t really work).
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After all, did I miss something on how Pitt could physically reach his father so quickly?
The entire film seems to be executed so as to send Pitt further from the comfort of his psychological defenses that compartmentalize the horrors of the unknown, into the abyss of space.
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In that way, he must venture farther from Earth for the sake of the allegory.
The supporting actors (even apparently significant ones) serve as nothing more than pawns on Pitt’s path, and action set pieces also amount to nothing, consisting of emotionless characters with apparent stakes yet remaining distant during each of these moments, each ‘action’ scene feeling out of place, yet all of this contributing to the unbalanced vibe of the film. The voiceover is bad but seemed to only emphasize the theme that tangible forms of analysis, whether through ideologies (nationalism, religion, and science are all presented heavily here as comfortable devotions from one-dimensional characters along the way) or communication, specifically language, ultimately fail at providing any authentic meaning, and rather serve as barriers to accessing the complexities of emotional intelligence. Nothing Pitt says had any emotional effect on me and the script felt incredibly contrived, but I’m not sure if this was a failure of the filmmaker or an additional layer of context to highlight this disorientation and failed attempts to grasp at any true meaning at understanding ourselves through the resources we have. Sure, space is a metaphor for the directionless area of existential competence, but the focus seems to be equally shared on the tangible tools around us try to ‘solve’ the unsolvable puzzles. Parts were too on the nose, particularly the presentation of fear; as fear of what one will find if they permit that true self-actualization by lowering defense mechanisms materialized as singleminded ‘missions’ or personal goals, ignoring all peripheral details that populate life but are unbearable to one’s focus if they so desire to keep their heart rate under 80 bpm.
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Despite Pitt’s apparent ‘self-discovery’ throughout the film, his response of warmth to his father’s statement about relinquishing thought and emotion for his family for the sake of a single goal, compartmentalizing his own existential drives for the sake of his sanity, also rang false to me. I suppose this could be read as true self-actualization after working through his own real emotions, but nothing the film offers allows this to become a sensible reading. I saw it as another false sense of self-actualization, equal to his own previous defense mechanisms and his father’s narrow scope, with Pitt placing value in another ideology of family and the associated unconditional love. It should be significant that by essentially engaging in the same binding artificial processes but having gone through a self-seeking journey all the same, Pitt emerges with a sense of mindfulness and newfound confidence in trying to connect with others. If Gray believes that Pitt actually found something ‘real,’ the film is a failure; but if he is instead suggesting that the process by which Pitt takes action on willingness (even if the best case scenario is to reach another false ideology to cling to) will bring him freedom, well that’s an oddly optimistic endgame within a nihilistic realm that can work and is far more respectful of the audience and the film’s complexities than any other reading.
I’ve never loved a Gray film but if there’s one thing I admire about him it’s his resilience in refusing to adhere to complacency, tweaking each ‘genre’ picture enough to disbar a clear method of accessibility, and not in an obnoxious superior manner but one that feels humble and true to a vision. I didn’t like this film, and the ending provided a worthwhile message that couldn’t have felt less earned (regardless of how one reads it, and even if it is in line with that proposed ‘respectful’ reading, though I’m not necessarily buying that this was the intent), but there are enough details indicating that Gray seemed to be shooting for something a lot deeper than what we get with the final product. I’m disappointed that this vision failed to provoke me in the ways that I look for in a film, and I may be too charitable in my attempts to look passed the obvious faults, but regardless of intent it doesn’t work. I’ll still look forward to Gray’s next effort and hope that all my admiration eventually pays off in a film I love.

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Brian C
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#45 Post by Brian C » Sat Sep 21, 2019 12:51 am

I enjoyed this a great deal but I'm also curious about how it will sit. Deep in my soul, I think it'll probably age a lot like Gravity did to me; I enjoyed watching that a lot also, but it didn't take long for my nitpicking brain to reject it almost entirely, like a transplant patient who seems OK right after surgery before their immune system starts attacking the new organ.

But as for now I see it as a cinematic halfway point between Nolan's Interstellar and Denis's High Life. Unlike Nolan but like Denis, Gray seems to be using space travel as a metaphor for his protagonist's emotional state. At the same time, like Nolan but unlike Denis, he's also interested in the actual literal outer space stuff, too.

Which is sort of ironic, because as Never Cursed alludes to, this movie is really freaking pessimistic about outer space. It posits a world of advanced space travel that has led to simply an extension of all the problems we have on Earth - competition for resources, overdevelopment, pollution, etc - and does so in what is at times almost thrilling detail. Plus of course it's relentlessly dangerous and lonely and all that. Pessimistic or not, there's a visionary aspect to it that I find convincing ... I think it's more likely that our future looks like this than all the pleasant progressive Tomorrowland bullshit that we usually get when the subject comes up. And I say that with nonetheless full respect for Interstellar, a film I hold very dear. I'm just saying, I didn't expect that the film's title would end up being ironic.

I think the scene with the
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killer monkeys
was poorly conceived. It's such an odd non-sequitur, and it's the only time I thought the VFX were less than credible. I could maybe see if there was originally more in the script that linked that scene thematically with the outcome of Jones's character, but as it is I don't think it makes much sense and it's just sort of silly.

Speaking of Tommy Lee Jones, it was really a pleasure seeing him on screen again and not just doing the umpteenth (or maybe by now umphundredth) variation of Sam Gerard for the first time in what seems like awhile. He was a much more dynamic actor back in the day, but he's seemed progressively less interested in acting as the years have gone on. The standouts have been few and far between over the last 15 years or so - No Country for Old Men and The Homesman come to mind - but he takes his character here in a direction that was different and more nuanced than I expected. On the other hand, poor Liv Tyler, who literally has nothing to do but look wistfully at the camera. I mean, I know that's kind of her thing, but good grief. I'd have liked more of Ruth Negga's character.

I'd like to credit the great Hoyte van Hoytema also - this is the second movie I've seen this week (after The Goldfinch) that's just beautiful in every frame from start to finish.

Regarding the plot explanation for why he goes to Mars - this is explained in the film, it's because the power surges have knocked out the Earth-based communications needed to make that transmission and the underground Mars facility was the only place left to do it. Whether this is a good explanation or not I suppose is up to the individual viewer, but I also got the impression that this kind of travel in the film's universe isn't considered terribly burdensome. For example, when they get the mayday signal while en route to Mars, Roy says that "any supply ship can respond to that call", implying that this route is heavily traveled.

As a closing thought, one thing I thought was interesting but haven't really developed any actual thoughts on beyond that, is how the astronauts seem generally very religious. It comes up enough to draw attention to itself. I suppose it's probably a result of Space Command being a division of the military, which strikes me as a very impressively observed detail, if nothing else.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#46 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:19 am

Some of the flaws detailed above are certainly ones I can get behind. I think my least favorite scene was the one with Ruth Negga, where a character is inserted where another form of explanation would have done just fine. Or, frankly, none - we understand Pitt's motivations and he could have found out the information she has to provide once he gets to where he's going. Anyway, these faults aside, Ad Astra has a soulfully agnostic philosophy that rung very true for me. As I age I find a steadily increasing degree of empathy within myself for religious people, or searchers - but it always comes with an awareness that I could never be among them. Because unless efforts to improve myself, to look outside myself (however insufficiently), to live a decent and righteous life are undertaken on their face value, it feels fraudulent and transactional. Pitt's journey in this film is one that brings him to an important conclusion, of the sort that people around us manage to reach every day, despite nearly insurmountable hurdles. And it's never one that arrives at the end of a long search anywhere but within.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#47 Post by Never Cursed » Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:25 am

therewillbeblus wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 12:29 am
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After all, did I miss something on how Pitt could physically reach his father so quickly?
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I interpreted the hallucinatory montage of his travel as being much longer than it seemed - it still didn't take the many years that it took his father, but I assumed that a not-insignificant amount of time passed in between stealing the ship and arriving at Neptune.
And no disrespect intended to your interpretation of the film's larger goals, but I would be deeply frustrated at the movie if those were the case. A reading of this as pure metaphor, where the actual events of the film don't matter and are meaningless, well, I can't buy into that. It is simply too large a leap for me - it's an interpretation without any real evidence (at least in the traditional sense) to support it while also treating large aspects of the film as disposable garbage. I could see myself watching another Gray movie if he organized his next around some more concrete/compelling thematic or emotional center, but if I learned that this is how he conceived of this film, I would never watch anything by him again.

Not for nothing, Brian C, but the underground base thing still doesn't explain this problem away. Remember, both the Moon base and Mars had long-term personnel stationed there that knew about Pitt's mission, information that they almost certainly received via some kind of transmission. If they got such a transmission, then it means that Earth still has the capability to send information in this way, and Pitt's presence on Mars continues to make no sense. Furthermore, we very regularly see astronauts sending messages both to each other (the response to the distress call) and to whatever part of SpaceCom they are working for (Brad Pitt asking for support during the moon chase, the eulogy for the captain, the nervous captain radioing SpaceCom during the hijack and Pitt immediately after), so some level of communications are clearly operational, which again begs the question of the necessity of Pitt's mission.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#48 Post by therewillbeblus » Sat Sep 21, 2019 2:58 am

Never Cursed wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:25 am
A reading of this as pure metaphor, where the actual events of the film don't matter and are meaningless, well, I can't buy into that. It is simply too large a leap for me - it's an interpretation without any real evidence (at least in the traditional sense) to support it while also treating large aspects of the film as disposable garbage.
Well I wouldn't say that the events of the film don't matter, are meaningless, or are disposable garbage, but rather that they provide two dimensions of value to Gray's intentions as I see them. The first is as concrete variables for the service of the story, but the side characters appear to be so forged into typical thin caricatures and the action scenes played apathetic to me (to such heights that I could not see either as being accidental), so as to embody a second layer as symbolic hurdles for Pitt to travel through on his own internal path to self-discovery. I shouldn't have said "complete" metaphor, as I'm not implying any reading close to the level of 'the film is a dream' or anything that would indicate severe disrespect to the audience, though I do see the choice to set this film in space and the degrees to which Gray subverts genre expectations as deliberate to elicit a dual reading of the events that leans a bit heavier towards the theoretical. Of course being an astronaut and space exploration is Pitt's foundational schema for his life, so the pragmatic events are very real for his identity, which is blended with his profession as is common in Western cultures. This milieu also provides him with a familiar framework on how to traverse space both physically and within himself based on his own internal systems and value structures. My point is that Gray seems to be aware that the 'plot' of his space films is secondary to the emotional themes of Pitt's journey, and so the actual and abstract become blended as well, propelling the story forward within the genre and also using this iconography for the metaphysical. I believe his primary interests lie in the latter, but that doesn't mean he isn't choosing to utilize the environment and tangible details of the film to highlight those themes for both Pitt and the audience, which makes them all matter, meaningful, and indisposable for the story he's trying to tell.

The only aspect about this film that Gray seems definitively interested in declaring as real (in terms of significance he places on his choices, not inferring what actually occurs on screen is not 'real') is in Pitt's existential and emotional journey. If growth occurs organically within this journey, I think I missed how and why, but the process of asking the questions was well-executed at times and there was a lot of potential there that may encourage another viewing. Like others, I was also struck by the religious rituals sprinkled into the film and practiced by men of science, as if Gray wanted to demonstrate the facade or misperception of seeing this as juxtapositions with faith and science mixed, as a representation of his own interests in disrupting normative shallow perspectives in an effort to provoke flexible thinking, both inside the film for Pitt and outside for its reception from viewers. While I saw them as another example of an ideological practice that people are observed to utilize for comfort, I didn't detect a dismissive attitude. The approach felt simultaneously observational, compassionate, curious, symbolic, questioning, and championed. As a result of these careful acts and prayers uttered, the people observed to be practicing those rituals were smiling and looked at peace, a state of being that not many people in this film got to achieve. Like the 'metaphorical' elements of the film, or the 'authenticity' of Pitt's self-actualization, the message seems to be that in the absence of objective truth, the subjective truths we find through the actions we can take are truly authentic on the only level that counts.

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Brian C
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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#49 Post by Brian C » Sat Sep 21, 2019 10:36 am

Never Cursed wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:25 am
SpoilerShow
I interpreted the hallucinatory montage of his travel as being much longer than it seemed - it still didn't take the many years that it took his father, but I assumed that a not-insignificant amount of time passed in between stealing the ship and arriving at Neptune.
This is in the film also - it took 79 days.
Not for nothing, Brian C, but the underground base thing still doesn't explain this problem away. Remember, both the Moon base and Mars had long-term personnel stationed there that knew about Pitt's mission, information that they almost certainly received via some kind of transmission. If they got such a transmission, then it means that Earth still has the capability to send information in this way, and Pitt's presence on Mars continues to make no sense. Furthermore, we very regularly see astronauts sending messages both to each other (the response to the distress call) and to whatever part of SpaceCom they are working for (Brad Pitt asking for support during the moon chase, the eulogy for the captain, the nervous captain radioing SpaceCom during the hijack and Pitt immediately after), so some level of communications are clearly operational, which again begs the question of the necessity of Pitt's mission.
Well, I think you're far more interested in this aspect of the plot than I am, but I don't see what the big deal is. In the film we're told that the Mars site is the only "secure" communications facility left. That doesn't imply that all communications are down, period. We also don't know how the Mars personnel got the info about the mission - it's entirely possible that they went in person from Earth to Mars in advance of Roy's briefing on Earth.

Who knows, and really I don't see why it matters. The narrative momentum of the film takes Roy farther and farther into space, following the footsteps of his father. So even if it doesn't make strict logical sense, it makes sense in a more important poetic way. Plus, I'm glad we got to go to the moon and Mars with Roy, because it was interesting to see the film's ideas for those places. So I'm not concerned specifically by the 'why' of it.
mfunk9786 wrote:
Sat Sep 21, 2019 1:19 am
Some of the flaws detailed above are certainly ones I can get behind. I think my least favorite scene was the one with Ruth Negga, where a character is inserted where another form of explanation would have done just fine. Or, frankly, none - we understand Pitt's motivations and he could have found out the information she has to provide once he gets to where he's going.
This is sort of what I was getting at about wishing we got more of Negga's character. What must it be like to be trapped on a relatively small outpost of a foreign planet all your life, nostalgic for a home you've barely seen, and all the while bombarded with idealistic imagery from that home? I did like Negga's characterization of a bitter, worn-down Martian bureaucrat - I agree with you that her actual role in the film is fairly extraneous, but her performance hinted at a life that went beyond that.

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Re: Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

#50 Post by mfunk9786 » Sat Sep 21, 2019 3:57 pm

It just hinges far too much on coincidence for me, Brian. She could certainly have been a compelling character were she there for more than a one in a million shot (well, perhaps the universe of space travel is tighter than that...) that her lineage has an incredibly direct relationship to the protagonist's story. But I find it dubious that she would've been written in at all were it not for that.

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