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Ad Astra movie review

 
Ad astra poster.jpg
 

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.
— Imdb
 

Where do I begin with reviewing the movie Ad Astra? In terms of plot it is quite simplistic. Roy Mc Bride (Brad Pitt), a troubled yet stern Astronaut must embark on a mission to find his father, who thirty years previously, set out into space to find other sources of life on distant planets. The ‘Lima Project’, a top secret mission pioneered by H. Clifford McBride (Tommy Lee Jones), the golden boy of the space programme, long thought to be dead until mysterious energy fields begin destroying life on earth.

It’s an interesting premise hampered somewhat by unnecessary ‘on point’ voice over, messy plot contrivances and an unconvincing world. Undoubtedly the core underlying meaning of the movie is about the damaged son chasing after the neglectful father in the hopes that they can reunite after thirty years of absence, to seek answers from him to why he chose to abandon him. In this you also see that the son is doomed to repeat the mistakes of his father if he continues down this road. The other being the chase for something better ‘out there’ and in the process taking everything for granted including our loved ones at the cost of our humanity. It is a nice sentiment and one the world definitely needs right now.

But it is hidden within a messy plot where you never really get on board with what’s happening on screen or fully grasp the world created. It’s intentionally sterile to the point where it literally sucks the tension out of the movie. There was potential for the movie to be exciting and engaging as well as tell a meaningful story. But it misses the mark. Personally, I felt the voice over for the most part didn’t work. It was very on point telling you, the audience, what exactly was happening on screen. In one instance Brad Pitt actually says ‘I’m on my way to Jupiter’ just in case you missed that plot point. Not that Brad Pitt is bad in it, far from it, he is excellent. A really understated performance. But he is really the only character that stands out, the supporting cast is completely secondary coming across as one dimensional ciphers just so Pitt has ‘something’ to react to.

The other niggling aspect was some of Brad Pitts dialogue which hammered home, quite literally, how the character was feeling telling us at one point, travelling for 80 plus days to reach Jupiter ‘I’m so alone’ - just in case the subtext was lost on the viewer his chosen hermetic workaholic lifestyle has created a ‘loner’ separating himself from his loved ones - it is reinforced with flashbacks to him and his wife drifting apart. I would argue the audience would have gotten that idea without the inclusion of this clunky dialogue.

One of the aspects I found interesting was the trip to the moon and the fact that there is a ‘war’ raging on it where Pirates are ravaging resources for their own personal gain. This is never really explored at all which is a shame as it was one of the more fascinating ideas in the movie. Not to say that it fits into the story. It doesn’t. Sticking out like most of the action scenes. Perhaps studio interference responsible to try to punch up the story.

It is probably worth mentioning about the messy/implausible physics displayed in most of the movie. I could get on board with most of it bar three glaringly bad scenes: 1. The race to catch a rocket to Jupiter where Brad Pitt with ten seconds to launch manages to climb onto the rocket and somehow hold on as the rocket is propelled at 18,000 miles per hour climbing into a hatch at the base of the rocket. 2. Brad Pitt ‘surfing’ on a piece of metal trying to get back to his rocket near the end of the movie blasting through a debris field of rocks without being thrown off trajectory in the slightest. 3. Stopping for SOS call in space. Again the rocket was traveling at a tremendous speed so stopping without any reference on a whim seems very unrealistic. It’s worth pointing out that the rockets seemed like they we’re from our time and not in any way modernised/updated.

It is these implausible plot points that really let the movie down such as Tommy Lee Jones who is a very fine actor but I could never, not for one instant, believe he would be capable of surviving space flight - he looked old in his thirties never mind now in his seventies. Not withstanding that the movie is in long stretches actually quite boring. There was potential there but it is sterile, working in service of pretentious notions in love with the idea of meaning, to the detriment of story, character and an engaging plot.

Overall it was disappointing, I really wanted to like the movie and I could see the potential in it but it fell short.

** & 1/2 out of *****

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Pray for Death movie review

 
 
After a peace loving Japanese immigrant and his family become victims of a crime syndicate, a master ninja emerges.
— imdb
 

Recently I've been on an 80s nostagia trip re-watching movies from the era. Some bad and some good and some just weird. Its funny how your memories can colour what you thought of a movie. When I was a kid I was fascinated by ninjitsu, the martial art. I think I watched every movie ever made involving ninjas - yes even that one where all the ninjas wore neon coloured camouflage outfits. So in my mind Pray for death was a good movie. But what did I know I was only a kid and excited because I was allowed watch something violent. Cut to thirty odd years later and the movie has lost a bit of its luster but still somewhat enjoyable if not silly.

Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi) emigrates with his wife and children to America after he was pushed back for a promotion in his job. Wanting to be in control of his own destiny he plans to open a Japanese restaurant to feed the masses and heal his tortured dark soul after the death of his brother.

Upon arriving in America he visits his new home to find that he has moved into a demilitarized zone full of crack heads, drunks and drug dealers - the ideal place for a restaurant, Obviously.

 
Shit hole central

Shit hole central

 

Unbetknownst to Akira, a bunch of crooked cops store stolen goods in the abandoned restaurant - and one rogue cop decides to steel a priceless necklace names the 'Van atta necklace' (Named after the producer of the movie Don Van Atta) and a syndicate comes calling to get their property back headed by their cheif thug and sociopath called Limehouse Willie (Great Character name) played with great intensity by James Booth who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.

 
Limehouse Willie

Limehouse Willie

 

Cue all manner of Torture inflicted on Akira's Family. Kidnapping of his son, Running his wife over with a Car - Still Akira refuses to fight fire with fire instead he buries it, pushing the dark shadow away until Limehouse Willie Rapes and Murders his wife while she is in the hospital bed recovering.

Its a pretty nasty little scene and I believe that it was cut or at least trimmed from the DVD release in the USA and UK when it first came out. In fact I believe there was at least 7 minutes of cuts from the original movie which showed blood letting from attacks which were missing also. This would have made a viewing experience quite maddening - the editing is quite choppy in points to begin with so having frames lifted from the end of shots would have made it worse.

 
preparing for battle

preparing for battle

 

Akira vows to make the perpetrators 'Pray for death' and he unleashes his dark shadow and becomes a ninja once again. I actually quite enjoyed the title song 'Back to the shadow' by Peggy Abernathy It's really catchy and the entire song plays over a montage of Akira making weapons. It's one of my favourite scenes in the movie.

Although not a traditional head piece of a Ninja, a more hollywoodised interpretation but still it is quite iconic looking and when Akira adorns it he is going to battle and bring all that has crossed him to justice in a bloody singular fight of skill versus modern weaponry set in a mansion.

 
 

There is fun to be had watching Akira take down the bad guys with Arrows and shurikens. Although the choreography plays a little stilted at times, its still enjoyable for the most part. During the melee Limehouse Willie escapes and the chase is on culminating in a final battle to the death in an abandoned factory full of Maniquins.

I found this to be quite unbelievable as a ninja is essentially a highly trained and skilled assassin they wouldn't be caught by surprise - considering Limehouse Willie looked old and a little ragged it didn't play entirely real for me. But then again this is only a movie and you have to take certain artistic licence and dispel your beliefs.    

 
The end is nigh

The end is nigh

 

When the finale does arrive it is a suitably fitting end to Limehouse Willie when he is skewered to piece of lumber sliding head first into a mill saw as he begs Akira to 'Kill him' repeatedly. But there is no salvation.

Pray for death isn't a very well made movie for the most part. It was a part of cannon films trilogy of Ninja movies - which incidentally never followed a continuous story line - from Golan and Globus so they were made on the cheap and rushed out the door for profit.

There's an interesting Documentary about Cannon Films called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films which is worth checking out as it gives you an interesting backstory to the creative forces behind some of these movies in the 80s and 90s. 

Whether 'Pray for death' is for you rests entirely on how far you can suspend your disbelief and if you expect everything to be perfect from the acting to the production on a movie - Sho Kosugi struggled with English and the more dramatic scenes so they tended to be flat and sometimes silly. But hey, you're not watching this type of movie for the thespian like acting. 

Enjoy!