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AD ASTRA

An outer space adventure that is mostly backdrop for wrenching internal struggle. Brad Pitt’s character, Major Roy McBride, has managed childhood issues with controlled avoidance. He’s buried pain so deeply that he’s cut himself off, shut down emotional responses. His success with this is demonstrated in how calm he remains in a terrifying life threatening accident that would make any normal person shriek nonstop or blackout. That neat talent is challenged when everything he’s done to protect himself begins to unravel with the monumental task of saving the world. His father, a brilliant scientist and deified astronaut thought dead, is making mayhem on Neptune.  Son must find trouble-maker dad, save the universe, while his internal self is hanging on by a thread.

Pacing is difficult in space films, mainly because everything is slowed down on screen for the illusion of weightlessness. The action gets slow at times but never drags. It’s appropriate and is helped along by Pitt’s narration throughout the film, a curious then ruthlessly objective dissection of his mental status. His goal of saving the world, saving himself, and confronting his father is pitted against the difficulties and dangers of space travel. I got the feeling Pitt identified with his character on a gut level and liked the whole exploration of outer space versus exploration of emotional inner space theme.

Major Roy McBride is a hero steadfast, quick thinking and relentlessly brave. I see in him NASA’s long list of astronauts, but lacking their corny sense of humor. I also liked the clear-cut screenplay with a definite beginning, sometimes shocking middle segments, and a satisfying conclusion.

Some reviewers are whining about the lack of serious attention to the sacred sci-fi genre. I liked the film because space is used as secondary to Major McBride’s internal odyssey.

And now for something completely different:

DOWNTON ABBEY

So far, there is no way to compete with the Brits when it comes to period film production. What also amazed was getting the extensive cast back to do this film. In an NPR interview, Julian Fellowes expressed his astonishment of the same. Their joy of being together again glows on the screen.

Let’s be real. It took years to develop the history and scope of the Crawley family. To cram that much content into a two-hour film is impossible. Yes, the writing is trite and over-used, with tortuous injections of dues ex machina, but nobody cares. Certainly not the fans of this series. Me included. What we got was exactly what we wanted, the upstairs and downstairs back together again, the elegance of a fading era, the sparkle and beauty of it all. The costuming is so exquisite, down to the matching robin egg green of Dowager Countess Grantham’s satin slippers.

There is also the benefit of income for the repairs that a dwelling like Highclere Castle requires. (The window casement in one of the shots was so badly chipped its condition distracted.) Most of the grand houses are now in the National Trust, given up by families no longer able to financially keep pace with the upkeep. Lady Mary expressed the same worry about staying on at Downton, a reasonable concern.

The present day owner of Highclere, Lord Carnarvon (descendant of the famed King Tutankhamen excavation), gave a candid interview about how much the income for renting out his house for the series was appreciated for a new roof, among other things. Although the age of aristocracy has dwindled to its end, architecture and history must be preserved. Downton Abbey funds have helped greatly with that.

Link to Highclere: https://www.highclerecastle.co.uk/history-highclere-castle

This was the first time in a long, long time that I heard an audience of movie goers clap at the end of a film. It was good to hear and even better to escape from present day crassness into a lovely setting. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing.

Shameless plug portion: The Gracarin, scheduled for release on 10/10/19, is now available  for pre-sale.