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Ad Astra

Brad Pitt journeys to the ends of the solar system to get over his daddy issues
     In the near future, space remains the final frontier. Bases have been established on the moon and Mars, but scientists are still trying to make contact with intelligent life beyond our stars. Decorated astronaut Cliff McBride (Tommy Lee Jones) volunteers to lead a mission to the outer orbit of Neptune to send signals into deep space.
      Apparently true to his vows to not return until he’s made first contact, Cliff is hailed as a dead hero.
      Cliff’s son Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) continues his father’s legacy. As an astronaut, he’s the perfect combination of calm and loyal, unflappable even in the face of catastrophe. His stoic nature goes over less well at home.
      Roy’s calm is tested when the government tells him a long-kept secret: They suspect his father is alive. Worse, the government believes that the electronic impulses wreaking havoc on the earth are coming from his father’s space station on the outer orbit of Neptune.
     Roy commits to finding out the truth. 
     A moody, gorgeously photographed flick, Ad Astra ruminates on emotional isolation, both self-imposed and inflicted. Director James Gray (The Lost City of Z) gives a human story epic proportions, setting it amongst the stars. It’s an ambitious, partially successful project.
      The film is slow and obvious. Gray leaves little room for interpretation by relying on the most annoying of storytelling crutches: the voiceover. Pitt’s Roy murmurs about connection and humanity and space nearly constantly. It’s like having the director sitting beside you, whispering the meaning of each scene.
      It’s a terrible choice because Pitt’s strong performance needs no crutches. He offers a masterclass in minimalist acting. Roy’s calm disguises his fear of the vulnerability to which emotion might open him. As he nears the truth and the end of his quest, fissures appear. In the isolation of space, he comes to understand his isolation on Earth. 
     Even more impressive is Hoyte Van Hoytema’s (Dunkirk) jaw-dropping cinematography. The film is a cascading array of stunning space scenes and intimate, minimalist interior shots. Every frame could be hung on a wall. Humanity looks pretty insignificant dropped into the film’s vast empty expanses. 
      Ad Astra moves at the pace of a parlor drama. You’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting daring adventure in zero gravity. You’ll be delighted if you’re a fan of slow-burn character development and wonderful visuals. 
Good Space Drama • PG-13 • 123 mins.
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
 
Abominable 
      Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet) longs to live her father’s dream of seeing the world. At the moment she’s stuck in an apartment where nothing interesting ever happens. 
      Until a yeti shows up on her roof. 
      The escapee from a clandestine compound wants to go back home to Mount Everest, where his family lives. Yi recruits her friends for a cross country-journey to bring the yeti home. 
      A heartwarming tale about adventure, friendship and loyalty, Abominable could be the rare kids movie that doesn’t have adults checking their watches. 
Prospect: Bright • PG • 97 mins.
 
Judy 
     Judy Garland’s (Renée Zellweger) fame doesn’t bring her happiness. She’s in dire financial straits, popping pills to get through her day and a mess romantically.
     To make enough money to keep her young kids at home, Garland agrees to a sold-out London run. There, she reminisces about her Hollywood heydays, pops more pills and meets the man who will soon become her fifth husband. 
      A movie made to garner award nominations, Judy hinges on its starring performance. A fine actress, Zellweger seems to capture the fragility and gregarious showmanship of the little woman with the big voice.
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 118 mins.